DOWNERS GROVE – Given a short phrase or noun – free of context – how quickly would you be able to compose a five-minute speech explaining the concept?
After drawing three topics from a hat, high school speech competitors like Alex Buckley must pick one, and then take only two minutes to formulate a clever five-minute recital to impress the judges.
Last month, in the final round of the National Forensic League's impromptu speaking category, Buckley pulled the phrase "It's too bad stupidity isn't painful."
Buckley's take on the phrase roped together five minutes on famous historical figures who found success despite their incompetence.
"Some people, despite the fact that they make stupid mistakes, they're able to find some success," Buckley said in an interview with The Reporter. "Despite that success, we might wish there was some sort of pain to stop them, but there just isn't."
Buckley's rhetorical flourish spanned from U.S. President Ulysses Grant to the opera singer Florence Jenkins, who was "monumentally terrible," Buckley said, but whose husband had enough money that she sold out Carnegie Hall. Eventually, Jenkins' renowned lack of musical ability became a selling point of its own.
The speech made Buckley the national champion in Impromptu Speaking at the National Forensic League's tournament in Birmingham, Ala., this June.
The Downers Grove resident graduated from North High School this spring, where he competed in speech team all four years. He will attend the University of North Carolina in the fall.
Buckley is North High School's first national speech champion, and he also finished eighth in the United States Extemporaneous Speaking category.
"Just, 'Oh my god,' that was pretty much the overall line that I was thinking," he said, recalling the moment he won. "Every single alarm in my brain went off at once."
Several other students from North and South high schools placed in the national contest, among them South high's Natasha Prosek, who finished 13th in humorous interpretation. South High School was also one of 20 schools given a “School of Excellence Award in Speech."
Buckley said UNC doesn't have a speech team, and he plans to study English with a concentration in education.
He will miss competitive forensics "a lot," he said.
"It was able to introduce me to a lot of people," he said. "Not only at my own school but a lot of people in the area and get to know them and compete against them over four years."