Student-Veteran Qualifies for Nation's Oldest Speech Competition

Kirk Campbell Kirk Campbell qualified to the Interstate Oratorical Association’s National Tournament at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette April 20–22.

VERMILLION, S.D. – Kirk Campbell, a member of the USD Speech and Debate Team and a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, has qualified for the Interstate Oratorical Association’s National Tournament, held at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, April 20-22.

Campbell, a sophomore communication studies major from Sergeant Bluff, Iowa, will present a persuasive speech at the competition on the topic of suicide among military veterans.

Veteran suicide is a topic that is close to home, said Campbell, who served as an airborne intelligence specialist in the Air Force from 2012 to 2014. “I am very passionate about this topic and the more I learned about it, the more upset I got,” said Campbell. “There was no other topic I could do—this had to be it.”

The Interstate Oratorical Association was formed in 1874 and is the oldest collegiate speaking association. Campbell joins past participants of the prestigious tournament that include Williams Jennings Bryan and Sen. George McGovern. To qualify for the national tournament, Campbell placed first at the regional Dakota State tournament where he competed against students from other universities in North Dakota and South Dakota.

This school year marks Campbell’s first full season on the speech and debate circuit, where he competed in the persuasive speech category. “We are judged on three main areas: problems, causes and solutions,” said Campbell. “Do the problems and causes match up? Does the solution make sense? Do they remedy the situation and inspire the people who listen to my speech to act?”

Other judging criteria include how well the speaker delivers the information, including speaking volume, vocal rate variations, gestures and enunciation. Campbell said he spent hours every week practicing his speech, which lasts about 10 minutes. “Especially early in the season, I would give this speech to myself 50 or 60 times a week,” said Campbell. “I did it standing in front of mirrors, staring at walls. I found that my walk to school was the exact amount of time it took me to give my speech.”

Campbell, who used to jump out of airplanes while serving in the Air Force, says public speaking initially terrified him. “But I was terrified in a way that got me really excited. The rush I get from standing up in front of people and performing is something I hadn’t felt in a long time and I really liked it,” said Campbell.

Shane Semmler, associate professor of communication studies, is the team’s coach and will travel with Campbell to the competition. “Kirk is a talented speaker, but much of his success is explained by his incredible work ethic, commitment to the team, and passion for forensics,” said Semmler. “Kirk’s persuasive speech is among our most competitive events on the team, and more importantly, he consistently improved as the year progressed.”

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