2018 National Championship Article: Cassy James

As proof against the misconception that a competitor must choose between Platform and Interpretative styles of speaking, Cassy James performed a hilarious speech about speaking the truth in love, and a deeply emotional piece about prejudice and friendship. Here is an article written by the 2017-2018 winner of both After Dinner Speaking and Open Interpretation. In this article Cassy James shares what she has learned from her time in the NCFCA, including some tips for current competitors.

Once upon a time, a girl walked into a speech and debate competition room for the very first time. A well-meaning person had accidentally sent her family an email about this activity—“What’s forensics?” the girl had asked. “No clue,” said her parents—and so the girl somehow found herself in a hot room miles away from home, wobbling in her heels, smiling at three people she had never met before in her life. So she straightened her coat with shaking hands—took a breath—opened her mouth…

Then she talked for thirty seconds about Thomas Edison, swords and Winnie the Pooh—what those things have to do with each other, she couldn’t tell you—and ran out as fast as she could. Her speech topic, ironically, was perseverance.

You might have guessed by now that I’m that girl. Since then, I’ve learned so much in NCFCA that it’s almost impossible to narrow it all down. But three pieces of advice, in particular, shaped my speech and debate experience.

1) Be patient with yourself.

I can’t take credit for this advice—that belongs to the most incredible coaches in the world, my mom and dad. During my first year of debate, I found myself consistently frustrated. I just didn’t get it! I only talked for an unbearably long ten seconds—so how did debaters find so many things to talk about? How did they speak so smoothly? And what, pray tell, did they write on all those papers? What I didn’t realize then was that debate is a skill, built on a series of awkward and uncomfortable failures. In fact, it took me longer to accept the fact that I had to learn debate than it did to for me to actually learn it. But I learned to pace myself, to silence my perfectionism, to transform my goals from “I want to win!” into a manageable, “I’m going to practice rebuttals twice a week.” Now, as I face college and a new set of challenges, I know how to not only face them, but how to be patient with myself through the process as well.

2) Speak the truth in love.

Before NCFCA, it took every ounce of willpower for me to ask for extra napkins at a restaurant, let alone stand up for myself or share my faith and opinions. That was the first step in writing my After Dinner speech last year: telling myself the truth! And the truth was that my fear stood in the way of everything God wanted for me. So Ephesians 4:15 became my speech’s theme and my personal mission—“Speak the truth in love.” And that’s exactly what NCFCA has taught me to do: speak fearlessly, with love and kindness. Through speech and debate, I’ve learned how to communicate my beliefs effectively; I’ve learned how to stop worrying what people will think; I’ve learned to present the truth with confidence. NCFCA proved to me that as an aspiring writer and storyteller in a world consumed by lies, I can engage with different faiths and opinions respectfully, without abandoning the truth that I know.

3) Make the tournament different because you were there.

Again, I can’t claim this advice as my own. A friend and coach—a mom who poured into every aspect of my life—asked me this question before I ever stepped into a tournament room: will the tournament be different because you were there? So, in the same way that I learned to set competitive goals for myself, I learned to set goals to make three people smile, to encourage a sibling, to pray with someone I had never met before. Before I came to NCFCA, I knew I wanted to change the world; because of NCFCA, I learned how to change the world. I learned to remind myself everywhere I go—in school, in church, with friends and with strangers—to make the day different because I was there. To make this class—this group—this friendship—different through the little things I say and do. And what I’ve been given in return for that effort—the moments when someone cries or laughs during my speech, when they thank me for my encouragement—will matter for the rest of my life.

Three years later, I still cringe a bit when I remember that girl as she rambled about Thomas Edison and Winnie the Pooh. But even though I pray that my judges forgot that speech, I hope I never forget the topic: perseverance…the perseverance NCFCA showed me I had, that tenacity to keep going, to be patient with myself, to continue offering love and encouragement to others—the perseverance to become a storyteller that will “speak the truth in love” in a dark world, fearless.

Cassy James (After Dinner Speaking, Open Interpretation & Speech Sweepstakes)

Cassy James is a senior in high school from Celebration FL. She has been competing in NCFCA for the last three years, participating in both speech and debate and winning regional and national titles. She also serves as a Mentor and Coach at her club, encouraging others and helping them to achieve their goals. In her free time, she enjoys playing tennis, hanging out with her friends, and all things Disney. She hopes to major in English and become a professional writer one day.