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A way with words: La Jolla High School student qualifies for national speech competition

La Jolla High School junior Gaia Micciancio has qualified for a national speech tournament.
(Courtesy of Gaia Micciancio)

Junior Gaia Micciancio has qualified for a national speech tournament as La Jolla High School’s first student to ever make it to the competition.

The tournament, run by the National Speech & Debate Association, will be held in person June 12-17 in Louisville, Ky.

Gaia, 17, has been a member of the La Jolla High speech and debate team since her freshman year, competing with her teammates in the San Diego/Imperial Valley Speech League. She qualified for the national competition in virtual contests March 26-27.

Gaia, her team’s speech captain, said membership in the National Speech & Debate Association is earned by accumulating points in competitions over one’s years of participation.

She said speech competitions differ from debate contests in that during parliamentary-style debate tournaments, two teams of two students argue two sides of an issue against each other.

“Debate is more impromptu,” Gaia said. “Within speech, we have some types of speaking which are impromptu, such as extemporaneous, but then we also have mostly pre-prepared speeches.”

Prepared speeches are 10 minutes long, she said, and usually are used by a student all year long, incorporating feedback from competitions along the way.

“Even if you don’t advance to finals, you get a lot of feedback from judges … and you get to watch your competitors perform their speeches [and] learn from … them,” Gaia said.

Speeches are in one of 12 categories. Gaia said she mainly enters the interpretive categories, and for the qualifying competition, she entered the dramatic interpretation category with a speech on the 1985 Lee Blessing play “Eleemosynary” and in humorous interpretation with a speech on the 2000 Disney film “The Emperor’s New Groove.”

In both categories, competitors must condense their chosen works into a 10-minute speech.

The top three speakers in each category qualify for the nationals. Gaia ranked second in dramatic interpretation and third in humorous interpretation, meaning she qualified for the nationals twice.

She can enter only one speech in the national tournament and said it will be her humorous interpretation piece.

Earlier this year, Gaia also qualified for the state tournament in the original poetry and prose category.

Gaia said qualifying for the national tournament is “fulfilling because this has been one of the most consistent things I’ve done for my high school career … and during [pandemic] quarantine it was one of the only things I was doing.”

She added that the LJHS team is slowly making itself known in the speech and debate realm and her qualification “feels like a part of the road, and I’m proud to represent La Jolla.”

Gaia said her participation in speech has helped her become a calmer, better speaker. “I’ve done theater for a bit, but it didn’t help as much as speech and debate has because when you do [theater], there’s a lot of people doing it with you. When you do a speech, it is just you talking and there are people watching you and only you.”

Gaia said the support of her teammates is invaluable and added that she’s sad they won’t be able to accompany her to Kentucky. ◆