Students’ speeches score successes

Mallory Kutnick, Campus Reporter

The four-member speech team earned accolades for their work at a recent national tournament including three finalists and two individual champions.

Edwyn Mitchell, a sophomore political science major, and Emma Walker, a freshman communication studies major, left Evanston’s Northwestern University with first-place titles from the National Speech Championship.

Mitchell won the category for persuasive speaking, and Walker took first place in prose interpretation.

Walker was also a quarter-finalist in after-dinner speaking, and Mitchell reached semi-finals for interpreting poetry and prose.

Austin Mejdrich, a senior political science major, made semi-finals in three categories, including persuasive speech.

Cheyenne Flores, a sophomore theatre arts major, spoke her way to the quarter-finals for after-dinner speaking and a combination of drama, poetry and prose.

Coach Sara Gronstal served as a judge for other teams at the championship and therefore could not be there to hear the students speak. She was caught off-guard by her own pride during the awards ceremony.

“I tried really hard not to cry,” Gronstal said. “I tried to keep it together.”

Her attempts to keep her pride internal were for naught, however, as she learned Eastern took seventh of 26 in overall performance.

“I was pretty overwhelmed at this point,” she said. “I was very pleased with the results.”

Gronstal said the other schools, hailing from as far as California, were good sports and congratulated them on their victories.

Gronstal said she spends a lot of time with the team, coaching them individually and holding team meetings.

“It’s a lot of finding their own voice, having confidence to trust themselves,” Gronstal said. “(Coaching) is half of my job here.”

Gronstal said she enjoys hearing the students debate issues that mean the most to them.

“We try and do speeches that make a difference,” she said.

Gronstal said she and Mejdrich occasionally coach interested students of Charleston High School; this was how she said she met Walker.

The team began preparations for the National Speech Championship over the summer, with topic-finding and speech-writing in late June and early July. Some of the latest speeches were prepared in January.

This year marked the first National Speech Championship, and Gronstal said the two-person maximum for each of the 11 categories made the tournament easier on the students than competitions with higher caps. These other national tournaments, Gronstal said, were better suited to larger schools with larger budgets.

“It’s easy to kind of get lost when you’re a small team,” she said, adding that a team as miniscule as four means she can focus more easily on the students as individuals.

While the team tends to travel on the weekends, Gronstal said the budget is too small to do much, including traveling far to compete. They are therefore limited to the Midwest, namely Illinois and Indiana.

They will, however, be spreading their wings to Wisconsin April 12 to speak at the National Forensics Association National Championship Tournament in Eau Claire.

As Director of Forensics, Gronstal said it can be easy to confuse forensics – speaking and debating – for forensic science, commonly used in law enforcement.

“After ‘CSI’ became popular, we got a lot of really weird phone calls,” she said.

Gronstal specifically recalled one call in which she was asked if she “took dead bodies on the plane with her.” She was also asked to help investigate the death of a caller’s mother.

Mallory Kutnick can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]