During my sophomore year at the Glenbrooks, I arrived just a tad late to the prep room. Shuffling to a solitary couch where everyone seemed to be having conversations, I felt so utterly alone. Why did I bother flying across the country when I barely knew what I was doing, let alone anyone I was doing it with. By the end of the first night, as I shoved down a plate of cold fried rice, a group of circuit extempers turned to me, asked me my name and invited me to join their conversation with no reason to do so. These people whom I obviously admired and had learned from became fast friends, as we bonded over California Pizza Kitchen and reality television. Even though I left the tournament with unsatisfying results, I was so excited to share the season with “speech friends” and enjoy tournaments for more than trophies.
Almost 365 days later, I saw myself in almost the same situation at the same tournament. I found a new sophomore, who was similarly alone and similarly unhappy. As I brought her into our seemingly benign conversation, I understood the incredible effects this one invitation could have. My year and arguably, my entire career was changed with that one day at the Glenbrooks, as a circle of friends validates one’s competitive experience and even personal development. When you see the freshman in an ill-fitting suit or the sophomore having a panic attack over their speech, please put your circuit pedigree and teen angst aside and reach out. It may be awkward or seem unnecessary, but those small moments can change a competitor’s day, career, or life.