2015-16: A Reflection
by Jordyn Zimmerman, Mentor HS (CLE) Class of 21016; 2015-16 National Speech & Debate Association National Student-of-the-Year Finalist; current Bobcat Speech & Debate team member at Ohio University
“Through speech and debate, we can create inclusive communities where everyone has the opportunity to tell his or her story.”
When I switched to Mentor High School for the 2015-16 school year, I never envisioned myself joining the speech and debate team. However, that all changed when I addressed Mentor School’s staff on opening day and one of the coaches publicly asked if I wanted to join the team.
Although I thought she was joking at the time, the superintendent convinced me otherwise. On the first day of school, I was unofficially a member of Mentor’s speech and debate team, and by October, I had an informative speech ready to go.
My first competition was in December. Even though I spent my time rocking back and forth, essentially ignoring the world around me, I was hooked within just a few minutes of being in my first round. I walked away from my first tournament with some fairly good rankings, which I didn’t deserve.
For the first couple months, I wasn’t able to keep eye contact with the judges and simultaneously gesturing while using my iPad seemed nearly impossible. Yet, every Saturday I competed and the Cleveland District embraced a new way of thinking.
As a student with autism who primarily communicates using assistive technology, speech and debate has helped me turn some of my greatest weaknesses into social strengths. By the end of February, I possessed the confidence to look a complete stranger in the eye, I no longer rocked back and forth, and I learned how to appropriately gesture.
Now, there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t use the skills I learned during this past year.
Although, my experiences haven’t all been particularly positive. While most judges were extremely welcoming, there were a couple that made me question why I was competing. But I was lucky to have great mentors, an amazing team (#womentor), and to have been taught by two amazing coaches: Mr. Rotar and “Hall of fAmy” Mrs. Roediger, who taught me that it’s about the skills I develop, not my scores.
She made me realize that, if I win the connection with the majority of the audience, my ballot and the judge’s notes become irrelevant. Once I create that bond within the room, I have the chance to change the thinking and actions of others.
In February, I came to the realization that I was winning that connection in the Cleveland District. I was so honored when I learned that I was selected as the North Coast Student of the Year (NSDA chapter award-winner). And on Graduation Day, I had another surprise—I had been selected as one of six National Student-of-the-Year finalists!
In June, I had the opportunity to share my story on a national level. It was an amazing experience, and I could not have done it without the support of each coach and team within the Ohio High School Speech League.
Sitting in the cafeteria of an unfamiliar school, in another state (Utah), talking to new friends—made me really miss my team. But it also made me realize how connected we all can become. At its core, “speech and debate” truly is about making memories, giving it your best shot, and always working to exceed your personal expectations.
Through speech and debate, we can create inclusive communities where everyone has the opportunity to tell his or her story.
My participation in speech and debate may not have been something that I had planned, but it has changed my life in countless ways—proving that, if we’re dedicated truly, nothing can stop us from reaching our goals. #