Stebbins grad places 1st in national speech contest

As a child at Beverly Gardens Elementary in Riverside, Jalen Tolbert had plenty to say, but was too anxious to speak in front of an audience.

“I was always curious and interested in many topics, but super anxious to get up in front of people to speak,” he says. “Then, at Stebbins, I knew I had to break out of my shell and challenge myself, even though I knew I’d be nervous.”

He became class president his freshman, sophomore and junior years, then student body president his senior year. “I represented the student body and talked about what was going on in school as a vessel between the administration and students, speaking at pep rallies and class events.”

Once at Ohio University in Athens, “I wanted to challenge myself to represent things I cared about — politics, race relations, identity and sense of self.” A communications major with minors in political science and African-American studies, this year he became a peer mentor for the Office of Multi Cultural Success and Retention.

“I was able to connect with other students like me, and discuss how we’re navigating life at OU.” As an associate justice on the judicial panel of the student senate, “I’m taking my high school background to the entire student body, relating to all students — including those who aren’t like me — and being involved and vocal, creating awareness. I’m more subtle when I’m interacting with the entire student body but believe I’m making an impression by the way I carry myself to represent the students and believe I’m helping and making an impression.”

In one of his communications classes, he was always answering questions or asking new ones. “Our coach told me about the national Pi Kappa Delta Debate Team and its tournaments. One of my friends, Soren Starkey, and I saw last year’s duo event, were inspired and decided to do it.

“Pi Kappa Delta is a national forensics (public speaking and debate) honor society. Pi Kappa Delta’s motto is ‘The Art of Persuasion, Beautiful, and Just.’ In this context the term ‘forensics’ refers back to ancient Greece. The word here is defined as ‘speaking for judgement.’” This year’s competition was held at West Chester University in Pennsylvania March 15-18.

In the duo event, two students work as a team to address an issue. “Your piece can be a single script story, or it can be a combination of pieces that tells a narrative or provides an argument, and this is called a ‘program.’ It’s a creative outlet for advocacy in which you’re being ranked; and speeches are just 10 minutes — you lose the ability to bring up whatever you want, which is limiting, so our topic became a critique on the competition itself.

“The speeches given in the duo event are much more performance-based and more akin to acting or theater performances.”

The pair gave parts individually, with other parts in unison, and took first place in the duo presentation category.

“Our message was overwhelmingly well-received — although a few judges weren’t too pleased, but we aren’t above criticism even if we’re critiquing.”

Jalen, the son of Jasmine and Terrance Tolbert, has returned to Stebbins a few times to talk with staff and a few students he knows about things he’s involved with. This summer, he’ll return to the area, where he hopes to work with a Dayton mediation center.

After graduation, Jalen plans to continue to grow as a person and advocate for others. “I would love to go to law school and work in advocacy and political science.”

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