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Speaking With Purpose: An Editorial

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Gilmour Speech and Debate competitors Allie Mikolanis, Sabrina Bauman, Zack Holtz, and Sebastian Williams pose with their awards after competing at Wake Forest University.

Spiders, snakes, ghosts, needles, and public speaking all have a common thread: fear. Rational or otherwise, speaking in front of a group can be quite terrifying for some. Nevertheless, members of the Speech and Debate team thrive by serving a unique and vital purpose at the Academy.

Understanding Speech and Debate

To understand what Speech and Debate fundamentally is, the program can be compared to track and field. Track and field are both different aspects of the running sport, but each competes in the same setting with many overlaps. Likewise, speech and debate are two separate realms and deal with different topics and forms of speaking, though they are often viewed as one.  

Specifically, speech is loosely divided between interpretation events and traditional public speaking. Interpretation events are approximately ten-minute performances of published works, varying from being humorous to dramatic. Examples of interpretation events are Dramatic Interpretation, Humorous Interpretation, Duo Interpretation, and Program Oral Interpretation. Public speaking includes Original Oratory, Informative, Declamation, and Extemporaneous Speaking, which are seven to ten-minute presentations on specific topics.

Debate, on the other hand, involves direct analysis of issues against other debaters from different schools, and includes Policy Debate, Public Forum Debate, and Lincoln-Douglas. Student Congress is also a form of debate, but is different in the sense that it is a mock-Congress setting where students debate legislation penned by other competitors.

Thus, speech and debate are two separate aspects of the program, though they are frequently seen through the same lens. Competitors typically compete every Saturday from November to January at local high schools against other students, though opportunities exist to compete nationwide. The Ohio State Final Tournament is in March, and the National Tournament is in June.

Passions and Demands Drive Interests

Though each event is distinct from another, all communicate messages in different forms. Whether presented humorously, informatively, or persuasively, every event grants a “chance to speak on a topic you care about and promote awareness, thus spreading social and societal change,” according to Megan Porter (`17), senior speech competitor. Speech and Debate is a platform for students to share what they are passionate about in settings with other students from different schools who are also interested in discussing significant topics, such as sexual assault, bullying, and blame.

By expressing themselves in front of judges and other competitors, those involved in Speech and Debate grow as the season progresses. The program is very demanding and requires frequent practice and dedication in order to improve. As a result, competitors learn extensively. Developing skills from four years in debate, Sebastian Williams (`18) claims that the program has helped him to “speak eloquently, write concisely, and think critically.”

Teamwork and Individual Growth

Speech and Debate embodies an environment that encourages students to learn from and work with each other. Williams said, “The whole point of Speech and Debate is to educate- whether you’re the one learning or teaching.” Through this, important life lessons are learned, as students will know how to analyze and thoroughly explain ideas long after they graduate from program.

Not only do students grow in critical thinking abilities through Speech and Debate, but they also become better speakers. Mrs. Gay Janis, instructor and director of speech and drama, believes that competitive Speech and Debate is the best way to learn how to speak well. Being a competition-focused program, the push to become a better speaker is stronger and much more prevalent. Since “speaking out at crucial times is the very foundation of democracy,” Janis explains that Speech and Debate prepares high school students for adulthood by building confidence and “eliminating the chains of fear” that too often surround stepping out and advocating for change.

Speech and Debate additionally influences students by ingraining lessons in competitors that apply to all aspects of life. Nupur Goel (`17), Ohio State Champion in Original Oratory, shared that through her four years of competing, she has learned that her best is not necessarily others’ bests, and that it is possible to give something her all and still not win. Goel also said that Speech and Debate has helped her learn how to seek help and “tackle problems,” as perfecting a speech and its delivery demands lots of effort and attention.

Janis commented on the impact that the program has, for as the coach, she is greatly affected by what Speech and Debate has to offer. Because she works with a multitude of students who all have different speeches and strengths, Mrs. Janis has learned that there are “more than one ways to reach a goal” and that working consistently on furthering one’s speech and debate skills builds work ethic and persistence.

Overall Impact of Speech and Debate

Furthermore, Speech and Debate impacts competitors on a personal level. Experienced and acclaimed speech member, Zack Holtz (`18), shares how the program has influenced his life: “It is a way to express myself in a way that I usually am too scared to do. I do Humorous Interpretation, and the feeling I get when I get the crowd to laugh is beyond words, it’s so fulfilling.” Speech and debate are mediums of self-expression that allow for those involved to learn more about themselves and experience new aspects of presenting.

Friendships are also created through Speech and Debate, as one has the opportunity to both grow closer to Gilmour competitors and those from other schools. Because students compete divided by events, rather than schools, competitors meet others in their events from all across Cleveland, the state, and even the nation. Williams noted that he has met and stayed in contact with other debaters through traveling to Chicago, North Carolina, Texas, and Nevada for tournaments. Many friendships from Speech and Debate transcend distance and competition, for tournaments allow for competitors to work together and spend time with each other in-between competing.

Speech and Debate is unique because of what it offers competitors, and though it is not always recognized, it is building high school students with skills and confidence that will help them soar in the future. Goel encourages Gilmour students to join this potentially life-changing program. Goel said, “There is an event for you. A speech for you. People for you.”

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Allie Mikolanis is a junior at Gilmour Academy. She moved to Cleveland from Cincinnati before her freshman year and is very content with her decision to come to Gilmour because of the many opportunities she been exposed to. Allie is very engaged in competitive Speech and Debate, where she expresses her interests in politics and current events through her debate event, Student Congress. Her love of news is now translated into reporting it herself through The Lance, which is an experience she values. She will utilize the skills she has gained through journalism and reporting to guide her in strengthening the voices of others, as she hopes her voice will help and inspire others.