Strasburg students place at forensics competition

Makayla Thomas

STRASBURG – Two Strasburg High School students placed at the Virginia High School League’s state forensics competition in Richmond on April 2.

Makayla Thomas, 17, of Strasburg, a graduating junior, placed first in the Group 2A impromptu speaking competition.

Amelia Guthrie, 17, of Fort Valley, a junior, finished in sixth place in extemporaneous speaking.

Principal Morgan Saeler said academic competitions often fly under the radar.

“We are certainly proud of how hard these students worked to achieve this level of success,” he said.

Amelia Guthrie

While both students competed in speaking portions of the competition, the impromptu speaking and extemporaneous speaking competitions are set up very differently.

Makayla said the competition begins like this: She walks into a room without knowing what topics she may be presented with. She sits down and is handed an envelope with three topics in it. She said previous topics have included plastic water bottles and penguins. One topic must be chosen.

“You have seven minutes starting at the time you open the envelope to look at the topics, chose one, present it and give the speech,” she said. “I typically talk to seven minutes on the dot and the average competitors only talk for six minutes and 30 seconds.”

Makayla said the topics she spoke on at the state level were based upon quotes.

She competed against six others at the state level, 15 at regionals and over 20 at other conferences.

While Makalya had no time to prepare before the competition, Amelia said the extemporaneous speaking was set up with time to prepare in advance.

“Ahead of time you get three or four subjects and you have to do research on them and then when you get to the competition you are allowed to draw three exact questions that would relate somewhere in your topic. You have 30 minutes to plan your speech and a maximum of seven minutes to present your speech,” she said.

At the state level, she added that she has spoken on a variety of topics, including Asia, China, American politics outside the presidential election and science/technology.

Makayla and Amelia presented their speeches to a panel of between two to five judges who may not have experience with these forms of competition or the chosen topics, making it difficult to get their points across.

Both girls have held an interest in public speaking for years.

Amelia said she shadowed Makayla at a previous competition held earlier this year to see what the competition was about and then decided to try it out for herself.

“I’ve always really liked public speaking through FFA and other clubs so I saw this as an opportunity to get back into it,” she said.

Back in eighth grade she said she competed in extemporaneous speaking, which “definitely got me interested in the experience, so when I saw it was a competition style that I recognized I knew it was something I would have experience in and that I would get better at a lot faster.”

Makayla said she has been involved in public speaking since sixth grade, got into forensics during ninth grade and began impromptu speaking in 10th grade.

Last year, she placed sixth at the regional level. She then competed at three trial conferences, placing in the top three. She placed first in a Shenandoah conference, the Virginia High School League conference, the league’s regional conference and the league’s state conference.

Amelia also placed second at the regional level and in the conference.

Makayla said this competition has taught them about becoming more confident with public speaking.

“Almost all teenagers are terrified of public speaking, but it teaches us that we have to step out of our comfort zone and it teaches us to put a brave face on no matter how nervous we are inside, just so we can get our point across,” she said.

Both Makayla and Amelia have plans to attend college and continue on with public speaking at the collegiate level.

Makayla will be graduating this year and has plans for a double doctorate in forensic anthropology and behavioral sciences. She will be attending Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu. She added this university is an international school with only 25 percent of its makeup being American.

Amelia will graduate next year and plans to pursue a double major. She is looking into English or journalism, as well as something in the STEM field. She has not made a decision on where she would like to attend and is keeping her options open for now.

After college both girls said they would like to travel the world and possibly work internationally.

“There’s more out there than just my country,” Makalya said, “and if I don’t experience it then I can never be a true well-rounded scientist.”

Amelia added, “There is definitely a lot more to see in the world than what is offered in such a small town. There’s a lot more to see and I’d like to experience that because I feel like it would just be a missed opportunity if I didn’t.”

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or