We were speechless—literally.
Until last fall, Northwestern's student body, full of canny communicators, had no representing speech team—a speechless status junior Adam Saxton ’14 found unacceptable. Saxton, an International Relations major, joined Professor John Arehart to captain a team of 15 students for Northwestern’s first year back in competitive speech and debate.
“We went from having no team on campus last year, to having over a dozen people involved, competing at multiple tournaments in several categories and placing in several of them,” said Saxton, “God has blessed our team with a rapid development that usually takes years of experience to acquire.”
The team competed in eight tournaments, nearly sweeping the Impromptu category at the final Twin Cities Forensics League tournament in February, ending their season victorious. Saxton placed first and teammates Rachel Temp ‘and Benjamin Fernandes ’14 tied for third place; Danielle Jack placed fifth.
Fernandes remembers heading into that last competition with waning confidence, feeling unprepared.
"I met professor Arehart, and practiced with him, I was quite saddened and disappointed with myself as I felt as if I hadn’t prepared enough ...Coach gave me a short pep talk, and it really got to me. At this point I had an hour till we departed for the speech meet. I went to my room, turned off my cellphone and everything, and found a mirror. I practiced impromptu speaking for an entire hour, just the mirror and myself. I prayed and asked God for wisdom and insight, once I got done. I went to the Shuttle van that was taking us to the speech meet and didn’t tell anyone what I had just done."
At the competition, Fernandes gained confidence with each round and found himself looking at his name on the list of finalists for the Impromptu category.
"I was in awe of what God had done, as I knew for sure that I couldn’t have done any of that on my own. I looked up and said a short prayer. I glanced across and saw my coach with a big smile on his face as four impromptu speakers in the finals were from Northwestern College. Coach came up to us and gave us a big hug...I thanked God and realized that the talents that we have are a gift from God, what we make of our talents is our gifts back to God."
Though there are no more tournaments this season, the team has one more performance left. Today they’ll deliver their winning speeches for President Cureton, who invited the team in an act of recognition and celebration of their unprecedented first year.
Coach Arehart expressed joy over the team's accomplishments: "Winners of [the TCFL] tournament consistently vie for national championships, so we are extremely proud of our team's performance and look forward to a great season next year.”
The team will continue under leadership of co-captains Rachel Temp and Charity Hayden in the fall while Saxton studies in Washington D.C. for the semester. Though absent from competition, the thrill and skill of debate has its permanence with Saxton.
“Competitive speech and debate impacts every aspect of my life. From writing arguments in academic papers, formulating presentations, to engaging other people in daily conversations, speech and debate did more to change my mindset than almost any other activity.”
In the spring Saxton plans on rejoining the team, envisioning a “more structured approach” after a year of learning the basics of competing. One of the team’s goals is to attend the Christian College Nationals, a large highly competitive tournament attended by numerous colleges and universities across the nation. Beyond competing, Saxton, Fernandes and other team members acknowledged they became a family, sharing Christ as a common thread.
“Speech at Northwestern is different because of the centrality of Christ," Saxton said, "We strive to make sure that not only the way we are speaking is pleasing to God, but also what we say.”