Marist High School 2018 graduate Morgan Johnson made history by becoming the first student from the school to become a national champion for speech. He placed first in the country at the National Catholic Forensic League Grand National Tournament held in Washington, D.C. May 25 to 27.
Johnson competed in the original oratory category. Competitors create a factual speech based on a subject of their choosing. Johnson spoke about eradicating the stigma thrust upon children with incarcerated parents. There were 234 competitors in the category. Johnson had doubts on day one, but when he advanced to the second day of competition, he felt the hardest part was behind him. After completing the final round he said he walked out of the room saying, “I think I just won nationals!”
Johnson advanced to nationals along with senior teammates Ashley Kikos, Cate Hynes, and Liam Kelly, juniors Kristen Kolp and Sarah Peck, and freshmen PJ Cunningham and Una Fortier. The team had an exceptional season leading up to nationals. During each regular season competition, Marist had at least one team member place and the team took first place at its home tournament. The team also hosted a showcase for family, students, and friends.
"This is a huge win, as it validates [Marist's program] on a national level, and shows that we can hold our own against much larger programs," explained team moderator and English teacher Samantha Paoletti. "I told Morgan that this was such an important moment, because there were juniors and freshmen in the audience, and he just showed them that national champion is something that is attainable and worth working toward. It seems fitting that someone who gave so much to this program will have such a lasting impact."
Johnson said he wishes more people understood the dedication speech takes. Team members wake up at 5 a.m. each Saturday and participate in twelve-hour competitions, where judges expect the same energy and accuracy at 8 a.m. as at 4 p.m. This does not include all the time spent writing, editing, memorizing, and practicing.
In reflecting on his participation, Johnson said he gained interview skills, but more importantly learned how to be vulnerable. “All year my coach has been pushing me to open up and talk to people and be able to show vulnerability without fearing rejection, and [that] weekend I finally achieved that,” he said. Johnson will attend Western Illinois University, where he hopes to start a speech team with the help of the University’s theatre department.