Forensics SocietyBy Katie Neitz

The thought of giving an off-the-cuff impromptu speech is enough to rattle seasoned CEOs and leaders. But not Aaron Walker ’18. He has spent the past four years honing his skills and building the mental muscle he needs to formulate a speech on a topic he only just learned about and deliver it in a clear and compelling presentation—all within seven minutes.

Impromptu speaking is just one of the speech and debate events members of the Lafayette Forensics Society competed in at the National Forensics Association (NFA) tournament. The team traveled to University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in mid-April to compete against the most talented speakers and debaters from top forensics programs across the country. Lafayette finished sixth in Division 3 (of 35 schools) in speech and 10th in the nation overall in debate.

“I am extremely proud of the students,” says Director of Forensics Activities Scott Placke. “The NFA tournament is one of the largest and one of the most competitive tournaments, with about 90 schools and hundreds of students from across the country competing. It’s our capstone, the culmination of many months of hard work.”

Two standout performances from the tournament came from team captain Walker, a national quarter-finalist (top 24 in the nation) and Saeed Malami ’20, a national octa-finalist (top 48) in Impromptu and Programmed Oral Interpretation.

“Public speaking is often cited as people’s greatest fear,” says Walker, who graduated in May with a B.S. in biochemistry and an A.B. with a major in policy studies. “It’s such an integral part of professional and personal life. I think it’s an invaluable skill to be able to express yourself and deliver your thoughts in an organized and effective way.”

Walker certainly developed a talent for it: He is the first Lafayette student to win three state oratorical championships during his collegiate career.

Placke says seeing Walker accept the award for his state championship win was one of the highlights of the season. “It’s a very special experience to get to work with students over their four years on the team,” Placke says. “You really get to know them when you travel to tournaments together. You get to see them grow and develop and learn over an extended period of time, and it’s really special to me.”

Walker was the only graduating senior on the team, which means there will be a lot of talent returning next year. But Placke says they are still recruiting new members, and he encourages students of all backgrounds and majors to consider joining.

“There are very few extracurricular activities that are as educationally beneficial as this,” Placke says. “In forensics, students learn not only how to be effective oral communicators, but they also learn how to research and write, how to organize their thoughts, how to manage time, how to work well in groups, and how to think on their feet. There are a lot of valuable skills they emerge with. It makes them better in their classes and out in the world.”

Learn more about the program.

NFA tournament participants:

  • Luisa Gunn ’21
  • Scott Kaman ’21
  • Tergel Khatanbaatar ’21
  • Saeed Malami ’20
  • Ansh Mishra ’21
  • Elias Saric ’20
  • Aaron Walker ’18
  • Sidharth Vijay ’21
  • Assistant Director of Forensics Activities and coach John Boyer
  • Director of Forensics Activities and coach Scott Placke

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