Speaking of Excellence Posted on September 1st, 2009 by

Kris Kracht leads a vocal warm-up at the third Gustavus Summer Speech Institute. (Photo by Amy McMullan '10)

Kris Kracht leads a vocal warm-up at the third Gustavus Summer Speech Institute. (Photo by Amy McMullan '10)

By Amy McMullan ’10

“Betty Botter bought some butter, but she said ‘this butter’s bitter, if I put it in my batter, it will make my batter bitter.’ So she bought some better butter, put it in her bitter batter, and it made her bitter batter better.”

With clear articulation and perfect diction, 69 students from six states recited this tongue twister each morning during Gustavus Adolphus College’s third Summer Speech Institute (SSI, held July 26-Aug. 1, 2009. Coordinated by Kris Kracht, Gustavus’s director of forensics, the program welcomed dozens of high school students to the Gustavus campus. For the first time, the institute also provided professional training for high school speech coaches at the Gustavus Summer Coaching Institute.

At the speech institute, high school students participated in a variety of activities to prepare for the upcoming speech season. Guided by Kracht, members of the Gustavus Forensics Team, as well as high school and college speech coaches, the high school students spent their week researching, writing, and rehearsing a speech for competition.

Each morning, the high school students and their coaches participated in vocal warm-ups, a Gustavus SSI tradition that included reciting amusing songs, tongue twisters, concentration activities, and fun games. Then, they got down to business in “sessions,” where students and coaches discussed speech-writing techniques, timing, and performance skills specific to their competitive category. Throughout the day, the students worked on their individual speech with coaches—researching in the library, writing and editing the text, and rehearsing the delivery.

“The students leave camp with not only a well-crafted speech that they can perform and compete with during the speech season, but more importantly, they leave having learned valuable research, writing, argumentation, reasoning, and performance skills that they can utilize in high school, college, the work place, and beyond,” said Eric Cronin ’11, a Gustavus Forensics Team member and SSI coach.

In addition to teaching the ins and outs of competitive speech, Gustavus SSI instills important values in its participants. “Throughout the week, I really stressed the importance of striving for excellence and not settling for mediocrity,” said Kracht. “True champions are not defined by trophies, rather their desire to always strive for excellence, their ability to demand it of others, and their desire to take pride in the art they produce. Win with class, lose with grace, and have the inner desire to know why.

Motivation, passion, and dedication are clearly evident in the SSI participants. Quite frankly, these people love the competition and they love to talk!

In spite of their enthusiasm, competitive speech and forensics programs are being cut in many schools. Gustavus SSI participants and coaches feel very strongly about keeping the activity alive regardless of budget constraints.

“Gustavus SSI allows us to strengthen high school programs around the country, which makes it so that speech programs are large enough that they are harder to cut,” said Mary Cunningham ’10, a Gustavus Forensics Team member and SSI coach.

Bringing high school speech competitors to Gustavus provides a unique recruiting opportunity for the Gustavus Forensics Team as well as the college.

“The impetus for the Gustavus Adolphus College Summer Speech Institute has been recruiting,” said Kracht. “Our vision is to make Gustavus the center for forensics training and competition in the region. If a Minnesota student wants to stay in state and compete in college, we want Gustavus to be the focal point.”

Kavan Rogness ’09, a Gustavus Forensics Team alumnus and SSI coach agreed. “The vast majority of these students will attend college, and bringing them to campus for an academically oriented camp is an incredible opportunity. It’s important to develop talent and show them that they have a place to continue it beyond high school,” Rogness said.

After a tiring but exciting week, the forensics team can reflect on the rewards of the week. “It is so much fun to watch all sorts of competitors make progress,” said Cunningham. “I couldn’t believe how far every single one of them came from where they started.”

“The entire SSI coaching staff was struck by the students’ dedication and passion,” added Rogness.

View more photographs from the 2009 Gustavus Adolphus College Summer Speech Institute on Flickr.


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