Imagine gearing up all year for your one shining moment, that one opportunity to serve as a voice for someone who cannot speak for themselves.
Imagine that same opportunity erased in a matter of days due to extreme circumstances. The following narrative unfortunately was the case for Seton Hall University’s Brownson Speech and Debate team.
In the span of two weeks, this story of event cancellations has become far too common in situations for other students, student athletes and seniors hoping to walk across a stage come May.
Speech and Debate Team’s captain Brian Sumereau does not view the season as a total loss since they have been competing since the fall.
“Fortunately, for us, our entire season happened before we got sent home and the only thing we still had left to do was go to our national tournaments,” Sumereau, a junior finance and IT major, said. “The National Speech Championship, which is West Virginia got postponed to May 30-31 but that is still up in the air now because we don’t know if the University will let us travel to that tournament. The other event, the American Forensics Association (AFA) Tournament, was completely cancelled.”
Something the AFA did to adapt to the cancellation is host an online tournament. Though the organization has never hosted something like this before, it would follow a similar structure as it normally would – a round-by-round format but without the prizes. The competition would require contestants to record themselves speaking, submit the speeches and be pitted against other people based on that recording.
Meagan Gawron, a freshman diplomacy and international relations major on the team, spoke about what speeches mean to her.
“Speeches are all about advocacy, people make the mistake in thinking the tournaments are about the rewards, medals and winning,” Gawron said. “Speech is all about sharing your message in whatever means possible. We’re being able to maximize the amount of people that hear our message on a national level but, instead that is being cut short for us and that has been really, really hard.”
Next year’s team looks to come back stronger than ever, improving upon a fourteenth nationally ranked squad a year ago and had speeches this year that qualified for nationals early before the abrupt season ending.
“Because [we are not] a spring team or compete only in the spring season, to have 90 percent of our [competition] done is absolutely a blessing,” Sumereau said. “Another blessing is that we don’t have any seniors so definitely a plus in that we aren’t losing anybody, nobody has to spend their last year in quarantine and not going to a national tournament.”
Seton Hall’s United Nations Association is dealing with their year being cut short as well.
President Stephen Hoffman said that with competitions over for the year, the team is focusing now on replacing its graduating seniors.
“The thing that we’re going to continue working on throughout this semester and going into next year is developing the skills of team members – especially freshman,” Hoffman said. “The freshman class we got this year are insanely good at this and they’ve won so many awards.”
Aside from allowing the seniors to go out the right way, Hoffman believes the most important thing they must now figure out is elections. As classes have shifted online, the election process would likely move to a program like Microsoft Teams or Zoom. The general body still communicates through Slack.
Despite the current situation, Hoffman still wants to keep spirits high in SHUNA.
“One thing about SHUNA that I think is really special is that we call ourselves the SHUNA family – we’re really, really close-knit,” Hoffman said. “We travel together for days at a time; we work really hard together to get to where we are. It was someone’s birthday the other day and we put a hamster in the group chat. We’re trying to keep it light, trying to keep everybody’s moods high because it’s hard right now.”Evando Thompson can be reached at email@example.com. Find him on Twitter @ethmps.