Making speech history: Shruthi Kumar’s national victories

By J1 Reporter Callie Cavanaugh

Marian’s speech program, like nearly all school activities, fluctuates from year to year.   Similar to any other competitive sport or activity, some years the speech team soars while other years are spent growing. 

For Marian speech, last season was most definitely one marked by soaring— especially by one key competitor, senior Shruthi Kumar. Kumar

Kumar holds her fifth place trophy at the NSDA national speech competition in Dallas, TX this past June

placed in the top six at three separate national tournaments in the original oratory category. These tournaments include the National Individual Events Tournament of Champions (NEITOC) where she placed sixth, the Catholic Forensics League (CFL) National tournament— where she earned third, and finally, Kumar earned fifth place at the National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA) National tournament in Dallas, Texas this past June. 

To put these victories into perspective, Marian speech coach, Ms. Halli Tripe said, “Breaking at all three national tournaments is probably something that less than one percent of students achieve.” A series of wins of this magnitude is something that is not only rare among the Marian speech team, but is almost impossible to attain for students across the nation. “Marian used to have a really nationally-influential team, so I don’t know, we just kind of dwindled down, but now maybe it’s like a relapse or something,”  Kumar said. She didn’t know the last time a Marian girl had competed at this caliber— making her win all the more significant to the team.

The reason for the rarity of such a victory is because the road to achieving it is intentionally challenging. Not only is qualifying to each respective tournament very difficult, but each one hosts very different pools of competition, essentially meaning that Kumar rarely competes against the same speeches multiple times— never knowing what to expect. Additionally, to qualify to the NSDA national tournament, one must first place highly at the NSDA district tournament, which took place on March 2, 2019 at Millard North High School in Omaha and is a large and highly competitive tournament. Kumar was this tournament’s original oratory champion, earning her a spot in the national tournament that June. 

Her oratory is a 10-minute speech focusing on the hyperconnected nature of society, she explained that “We are constantly stimulated. We always want to keep talking to someone, or on our phones. We never have a moment of solitude and the practice of being alone is seen as bad by society.” With her piece, Kumar aimed to de-stigmatize the idea of taking time to be alone. “I spoke about how the counterpart to the hyper-connectivity of society is taking time to be by  yourself so you can learn more about yourself.” 

In addition to Kumar’s attitude of constant self-improvement, another key to her success is the genuine passion she has for her topic. She truly believes in what she is speaking on and it is evident in her delivery. “I just kind of fell in love with my speech the more I did it, I focused mostly on my message and how I wanted to share my message and that kept me going throughout the whole tournament,” Kumar said. She competed with the same piece from November 2018 until June 2019, so a genuine enjoyment of her topic proved to be essential. 

Following districts, Kumar finished out the rest of the season, placing second at Nebraska Class B districts and qualifying to state, before beginning her preparations to compete at the national level. According to Tripe, the reason the Kumar is able to excel so consistently is: “On top of all of this, she relentlessly revises. After every tournament it’s like rewrite, re-memorize,” Tripe said. Kumar never stops improving her speech, never settles, and always stays humble. Before she attended NSDA, she said, “I didn’t expect to go that far really.”

Kumar at NSDA nationals moments after finding out she ranked in the top six and will be competing in the final round

Marian only funds the Marian speech team to attend one national tournament every year, NEITOC. Determined to compete further, for both the CFL and NSDA national tournaments, Kumar competed in Marian’s name, but attended the competitions with the Millard West speech team. 

“My previous national tournaments were kind of like practice for the big one and it is always really hard to know how you’re going to do because there are just so many people competing in the same event.” Most of these people are ones she had never competed against, being one of only three competitors from Nebraska at NSDA made her outcome all seem all the more uncertain. Despite this ambiguity, Kumar viewed her competition in a positive light. “Everyone there is just so passionate about their topic, and it’s amazing to see them all compete.” Said Kumar. Her positive attitude coupled with her relentless work ethic made Kumar a force to be reckoned with. 

NSDA nationals is the largest speech tournament in the country, spanning six full days of competition (June 16-21) and hosting hundreds of the most exceptional high school speakers from across the nation. Over the course of the nearly week-long tournament, Kumar powered through 13 rounds of competition (a standard tournament contains at most three or four rounds)  and ultimately made it to the final round, ranking herself among the top six best speakers in the nation.

No longer was she presenting in front of a few fellow students and judge in a cramped high school classroom, she was now to deliver her speech to a large audience on a stage complete with spotlights, intimidating judges, a booming announcer, and framed by gleaming trophies. Not to mention the tournament was being live broadcast to thousands more online viewers nationwide, including her supportive teammates all the way back in Omaha. Kumar delivered her speech with the same polished confidence that earned her that spot on the stage, and soon after earned fifth place, receiving a $500 scholarship, a large trophy, and most importantly, automatic qualification to next year’s national tournament in Albuquerque, N.M. 

Kumar’s accomplishments only inspire her to keep moving forward with speech. With a dedication to both her own path as a competitor and also to the Marian speech community as a team captain, Kumar’s senior year speech season will surely not disappoint and Marian speech will keep on soaring.

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