I walked into the Speech and Debate information session during my first-ever week of high school with no expectations. I had gone on a whim with a few of my friends, and I just wanted to see the possibilities that existed. Frankly, I never imagined myself as a public speaker: I was small, shy, and afraid of speaking in class, let alone in front of big groups of people. Inspired by my eighth-grade speech teacher, I decided I would push myself to attend at least one meeting.
Deciding how I wanted to participate in forensics was no easy task. There were so many options, but I decided I wanted to do either Extemporaneous Speaking or Lincoln Douglas debate. The more I thought about it, the more interested in extemp I was, but my friends all wanted to do LD. I didn’t make a choice until the first team meeting where, at the last second, I decided I would follow my interest and try extemp, while my friends left for LD. As a freshman, being away from my group made me feel so vulnerable, and yet, before my speech career had even really begun, I was beginning to distinguish myself as an individual, and explore what truly fascinated me.
It wasn’t until my first tournament, where I noticed that most extemp competitors were male, that I truly felt intimidated. Yet this adversity wasn’t all bad. The bro-culture brought the few girls on our team together in solidarity, and I soon found myself forming stronger friendships than I’d ever had before.
The benefits of participating in extemp didn’t stop there. Gradually, I also began to find my voice, and learned to be unafraid of going head-to-head against the boys. I’d counter their loud arguments with my own, more soft-spoken facts, and over time, I began winning rounds. Even when I didn’t win, I would carefully read over the judges’ critiques, taking stock of my strengths and addressing my weaknesses. As I learned to use constructive criticism to my advantage, I became a solid performer, as well as a more confident person.
I competed for all four years of high school, but my Senior season was definitely the highlight. I had the opportunity to coach our team’s Sophomores, and twice a week, I helped coordinate meetings and lesson plans, and I checked up on my Sophomores’ progress regularly. Watching them succeed and grow as speakers was extremely fulfilling— as an underclassman, I took comfort in knowing that help was available when I needed it. I wanted to leave a legacy of support as well, and I hope I was successful in doing this.
As a Senior, preparing to leave speech was a conflicting transition for me. After four years of competition, I felt like I had contributed to the community, but at the same time, there was still so much I wanted to achieve! My “speech career” boiled down to 46 tournaments in 12 states, and roughly 220 rounds. However, I know this is not what I will remember from the activity. I’m going to treasure the bus rides, inside jokes, numerous cringeworthy moments, and friendships that defy state borders. What I love about speech, and forensics in general, are the people involved, and maintaining these friendships has been a great way to remember the good times I had. Last summer, I worked at the George Mason Institute of Forensics, and I met an entirely new speech community. I loved getting to coach and work with people from outside of my high school because I got to learn a variety of new, different ways to approach extemp. Again, I love being a support for the students I coached, because I feel like I’m helping to leave the activity better than I found it.
Throughout high school, my Saturdays involved waking up while it was still dark out, putting on a suit, and running out the door to catch the bus to a tournament. Yet, my transformation wasn’t complete until I did one last thing: put on a pair of high-heeled shoes. True, they helped make me look and feel taller than my five-foot-zero stature, but they did more for me besides that. Each time I slipped into my pumps, I was reminded that I was “stepping up” to take on the challenges of competition. However, when I was preparing to leave for college in mid-August, my speech outfits were absent from my packing list. I may not be competing in college, but I use the lessons I learned from extemp in other ways. I can form arguments and write quickly, I am a confident public speaker, and a news-reading, well-informed person (and first-time voter this fall, too!). It took my time in speech to believe in myself, become a leader, and dress for the part. These days, I find that even when I’m not wearing my high heels, I’m still standing a little taller.