While often confused with the work done by magnifying glass-wielding scientists, forensics has a history that extends to the debates ancient Greece, and has evolved into nationwide competitions where some college students, like Chaz Kelley, argue their way to victory.
After winning first place in persuasive speaking at the Northern California Forensics Association Championship Tournament Feb. 12, Kelley will be the first SF State student to represent Northern California at the 139th Interstate Oratory Championships April 28-29.
The English literature major has a clear focus on politics in the speeches he delivers. His winning persuasive speech argued against the existence of Super PACs, which allow presidential candidates to raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations and groups to spend however they please.
Kelley and his teammates were also awarded first place in the University Sweepstakes at the Northern California Forensics Association Championship Tournament for the highest number of individual awards across all public speaking and debate events. The team took home a total of 19 individual awards that day.
While Kelley has been working on about five speeches since last summer for various events, he was inspired to speak about Super PACs after watching an episode of the Colbert Report last semester. From the initial conception to the first competitive delivery, Kelley spent about two months working on the piece.
“The complex, meta-answer is that we’ve been preparing for four years,” said forensics director Alexis Litzky. “He’s been competing with us for a long time and he’s been working on his speaking style for all of that time.”
Increased Super PAC coverage and current primaries have given Kelley more material to work into his speech; he said that he will be making a lot of changes to his speech before presenting at the Interstate Oratory Championships because he can now offer more solutions to what he sees as a problem.
But Kelley will not travel solo to the championships, which will take place April 28-29 at Emerson College in Boston. Each member of the speech and debate team has earned spots in other tournaments, including two national American Forensic Associations Championships.
According to Litzky, the team’s success is attributed to passionate participants and innovative perspectives.
“It highlights how politically engaged a lot of our students are. We end up doing well because we have cutting-edge arguments, really politically-engaged students and people willing to go out on a limb for something they believe in,” he said. “One of the things I think is unique about forensics is that it provides this competitive frame to get a gauge of how well you’re doing, but it’s really more about having an opportunity to get some speaking in and participate in public discourse.”
The honor of achieving the status as SF State’s first representative in the prestigious tournament has yet to actually be proven. Although SF State’s speech and debate team has been competing for over 60 years, information regarding any SF State alumni having won the competition is elusive.
“There is a strong belief that it’s so by those associated with the program,” said University spokeswoman Nan Broadbent. “But we could not uncover documented evidence to the fact.”
But this yet-to-be-confirmed title has not deterred Kelley from enjoying his victory.
“That was a bit surprising, but it’s an amazing honor. I feel really special,” he said.