Of all the topics that could win a national championship in Original Oratory, “inequality” seemed an unlikely candidate.
But it proved to be a winner for Andrea Ambam, an incoming senior at Raymore-Peculiar High School.
With a piece titled “America, Minus the Dream,” Ambam vaulted ahead of almost 250 Original Oratory competitors in the National Speech and Debate Tournament last month.
Ambam, who lives in Peculiar, first pitched the piece last fall but found it a tough sell.
Hadn’t discrimination already been thoroughly woven into the fabric of the nation’s social discourse?
Her peers and instructors wanted to know what was new or fresh about the topic. It’s 2014, they said, and the United States has a black president.
But for Ambam, the issue is intensely personal. She recalled watching her African-born mother move through a pharmaceutical career enduring glancing blows from customers not want to be served by a “colored” person, someone with an accent.
Ambam said she’s never really experienced discrimination apart from one freak moment as a child where someone in an idling car asked her if she wanted to be hanged.
“I was so young that I didn’t really get it.”
But if the national oratory champion could find her way back to that day, back to her childhood self, she might deliver a condensed version of the argument that won her first place: if “black” equals “person,” and “person” equals “white,” then it follows that “black” must equal “white.”
“It’s called the ‘Transitive Property of Equality,’ ” Ambam said. “I always thought you could do something great with it.”
Todd Schnake, director of theater and forensics at Raymore-Peculiar High School, agreed.
“The speech had bigger aspirations than just being a competition oratory,” he said. “As a viewer, you think, she’s right. And we do need to do better.”
The competition included both an award for competitors who score the most points in the whole contest, the championship trophy, as well as an award for those who score highest in the final round, the President's Bowl. Ambam won both.
The performance was hewn from a lifetime spent living the African-American experience, material that Ambam eventually realized she needed to work into her style to give her an edge.
“I’m not the best writer in the world,” Ambam said, adding she’s spent many a taxing hour reworking theses and developing her composition structure. “But what does come naturally to me is feeling and heart.”
Schnacke, however, counts Ambam among his best writers.
Whatever Ambam does in her professional life later, she hopes it’s the same as what she does now: methodically walk through dense issues and effect positive change.
Press a little further and she might tell you she could see herself as a politician or a psychologist.
“With the state of politics, I wouldn’t wish a career there on anyone,” Schnake said. “But she’s the kind of person that can bring people together. She can make the world a better place.”
Jackson County competitors also fared well at the National Speech and Debate Tournament, held last month in Overland Park.
Blue Springs High School earned recognition as one of the Speech Schools of Excellence.
Lee’s Summit North High School’s Benjamin Gruenbaum took first in the nation in humorous interpretation. Another area student, Blake Knapp of Blue Springs High School, took second place. They were the subject of a front page story in The Star on June 27.
Blue Springs High’s Lyric Davis and Samuel Moore took second place in duo interpretation, and Reuben Hoyle of Blue Springs South High School won third place in dramatic interpretation.
| Joe Robertson, email@example.com