The Voices Speech and Debate team travelled to Selinsgrove, PA from March 23-24, for the annual Pennsylvania High School Speech League States competition. In total, 10 students represented Conestoga at the two-day tournament at Susquehanna University, and ultimately, 5 students received certificates or medals of excellence.
Senior Anja Hencken became the state champion in Radio Announcing, the first Conestoga student to win an event at the state level. Junior YingYing Shang received fourth place for Impromptu Speaking, while junior and club president Jessica Lee received eighth place for Persuasive Speaking. Juniors Anurag Garikipati and Kevin Yao were quarterfinalists in Policy Debate.
Also representing Conestoga were juniors Surabhi Ghai, Jed Thompson, and Rebecca Yao for Parliamentary Debate and freshmen Bobby Pragada and Simran Singh, who participated in Humorous Interpretation and Student Congress, respectively.
Hencken said that her victory means a lot to her, especially as she finishes her high school experience.
“It’s really nice to wrap up the year with something like this. I never expected any of this to happen, and I think that being a senior makes it that much sweeter,” she said.
Hencken also mentioned how enjoyable the experience was and how being a member of the team made her want to continue public speaking in college.
Members of the team pose with their awards. Senior Anja Hencken won first place in Radio Announcing, while juniors Jessica Lee, YingYing Shang, Kevin Yao and Anurag Garikipati also placed in their events. Courtesy Lydia Lieb.
“The overall experience was amazing. Competing was the most fun because it was such a different experience and I loved meeting everyone there. In terms of continuing speech, I definitely will continue throughout college. I’m probably going to participate in speech as well as theatre and mock trial, which have huge speaking elements to them,” Hencken said.
Club advisor and librarian Lydia Lieb commended all participants on an excellent display of talent in each of their events.
“The team did an outstanding job at the state tournament, [and] to have someone win first place is amazing. Everyone had extremely competitive events, so to make it as far as they did is a huge accomplishment,” Lieb said.
Lee said that participating this year further bolstered her love for public speaking.
“This was my third time competing at states, but this was probably the most fun I’ve had,” she said. “After working hard all season, I got to the point where I knew my speech, loved it, and didn’t worry about it, so I could focus on having fun. I met great speakers from all over the state and heard about a huge range of topics.”
Both Lieb and Lee emphasized how successful this year’s team was, and how large the team was relative to previous years.
“We had the most qualifiers ever, this year. At our district tournament, we had place winners in almost every event, and that’s a big deal considering how young the team is,” Lieb said. “Everyone has really hit the ground running, and I’m excited to see how they will do next year.”
Lee said that she has enjoyed watching the club grow in both size and success over the past three years.
“It’s been a great competition year–this was our biggest team ever,” added Lee. ”My freshman year, the speech team was two people, including me, and there were only four or five debate [groups], and now we have over 40 people competing at each scrimmage.”
Lieb said that this year’s team stood out from previous years due to its unity, dedication and ability to try new things.
“What set this year’s group apart was the extreme talent coupled with the immense amount of hard work put in by everyone. There was just a general willingness to work hard. Everyone meshed together, so the time spent was more fun, and less work, because the work was so enjoyable,” Lieb said. ”We’ve always had talent, but the group this year bonded very well and also sampled with events we hadn’t really explored before, so that offered many new opportunities to us.”