Describe one activity that has impacted your life significantly.

When I first heard of Forensics, I imagined a combination of Family Feud and a presidential inauguration. There I would stand – on a wide stage, a never-ending sea of people staring, and spotlights shining down. Imagine my surprise – and immense relief – when I discovered that I would only be speaking in a normal school classroom, in front of six other students and a judge.

And so, as a carefree freshman, I originally signed up for Forensics with no clue about what the actual activity was – something about murder and science, right? – and only because my crush at the time was very active in it. Yet on my first day of high school, I found myself in the most crowded class I had ever seen, learning that I would not only have to write ten minute-long speeches, but also memorize them and perform them over and over again – all while wearing a suit. I was horrified.

I will never forget my first tournament, how desperately I tried to find the rooms of my rounds and how nervously I delivered my speech for the very first time. When I exited my first round, I was greeted by our team’s varsity members, all clapping and cheering for me and the other novices. It was then that I learned the magic of competing on one of the largest and most celebrated and most unified Forensics teams in the state. We were in it together, nervousness and all.

There is something about waking up on a Friday morning and thinking, It’s tournament day. There’s something about walking through the school hallways that day and seeing a select few others brandishing their ties and blazers just like me, all of us receiving strange glances from our classmates. There’s something about being friends with the cool kids, and the nerdy kids, and the weird kids. Despite the social divide normally placed between our groups, when we’re boarding that bus at six in the morning – some of us hurriedly scribbling introductions on our notecards and others whispering their speeches to themselves while puffs of frosty breath cloud the cool air – we become one team. There is no divide on that bus, at that tournament, or in our rounds. We are a team.

My freshman-year crush is long gone by now. I, however, am still in a committed relationship with Forensics, despite the early mornings and the tough odds and the moments when even I start to wonder why I persist. Once, when I had become extremely frustrated with Forensics and was raving about quitting, my coach asked me to remind myself why I kept coming back, year after year. I didn’t even have to consider before I replied that it was because I never stop learning from Forensics. No matter what I think I know, composing my speeches compels me to find something freshly eye-opening. The list of what Forensics has given me is never-ending. It taught me how to make others care as much about an issue as I do, how to take criticism as a helping hand instead of as an insult, how to never settle for simply “okay” but to strive for better, how to stay awake on two hours of sleep and lots of ginseng, and – most of all – how to transform my passion into words that resound.

I can speak now, which is more than I could say for my freshman self. I can chat up a customer at my job and make small talk like a seasoned salesman. I can convince a crowd that what I have to say is worth listening to. I can express happiness for others even if I’m not very satisfied with myself. I can argue for a cause that I completely oppose. But talking isn’t the only talent I’ve absorbed. I can also listen. I can see the other side of an argument I originally resisted. I find myself not only attentively taking in what a person telling is me about his or her rough day, but also genuinely caring. Since I first obtained the ability to form coherent thoughts, I felt convinced that I would someday become a writer. Forensics has only furthered that ambition. The ability to weave tales together from words, to paint pictures with my pen, and to influence a life simply by writing and then articulating from the depths of my beliefs, has never failed to astound me at every turn. Forensics has given me more to do with my words than I can ever imagine. It has given me my passion.

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