The power of her voice
Senior Atia Fairuz walks to the center of the room, the last contestant to go in the American Association of University Women’s (AAUW) Speech Trek. The nervousness she had felt listening to the other students speak starts to wane away as she begins her speech with conviction, taking an angle on sexism that not only addresses the struggles of women but the struggles of men as well.
Fairuz placed first in the AAUW Speech Trek, and has earned other achievements in speech competitions, including a second place in both the Lion’s Club Student Speaker Contest and Rotary Club Speech Contest.
“Being in a room where a single person is as passionate as I am and where everyone else is working equally hard is powerful,” Fairuz said. “To me, public speaking is fascinating, because this is a platform where people aren’t arguing, rather they are being persuasive.”
To prepare her speeches, Fairuz researches about her ideas, then decides a sequential order for how she wants to introduce them. She then compiles all of her information into an outline that details the main concepts she wants to cover. Rather than pre-writing and memorizing her speech, she thinks of her words extemporaneously as she presents off of the outline.
“Over the past six years of competing, I definitely learned more about the world and it’s pressing issues by competing in these contests than from my academic classes,” Fairuz said. “Any speaker while presenting should fully know and understand the concepts that they are presenting. For me, I prefer not having a fully written speech because I like to improvise on the spot as it comes to me more naturally.”
The topics Fairuz has dealt with in the speech contests range from potential solutions for homelessness in California, the impact of the service club Rotary International and gender equality.
“I took a heavily risky approach [with the gender equality topic] and instead of talking about women’s struggle, I highlighted the struggles of all genders, as well as highlighted cases of discrimination against men and how inequality affects everyone,” Fairuz said. “I also emphasized the phenomenon that unequal outcome doesn’t mean unequal opportunities.”
Through her participation in speech competitions, Fairuz has the chance to further explore events and conflicts in the modern world. Listening to other people’s speeches has also exposed her to new perspectives on these issues.
“The more competitions I attend, the more I learn about different issues around the world and how to solve them,” Fairuz said. “I try to be very well informed, however, if it weren’t for these speech competitions, I wouldn’t [invest] my time and [know] more about it. Once I go to these competitions, I learn from everyone around me.”
Not only has Fairuz gained new knowledge, but she has been able to forge connections and friendships with people who share her interests.
“For some of my speech competitions, my judges were the local policy makers. For others, these are people who are judges and lawyers who come and give me very valuable information,” Fairuz said. “I’ve made some of my best friends through going to these competitions. They’re all so passionate about the topics that I’m passionate about.”
Fairuz has always enjoyed presenting in front of a crowd, starting from being involved with her school’s theater program when she lived in Bangladesh. After moving to Calif., she joined the debate club at Suzanne Middle School. Her achievements in the club, along with encouragement from one of the mentors she met through middle school debate, Adib Hasnat, are what further motivated her to continue with public speaking.
“[He is] my biggest inspiration and best friend. During [my first competition], he helped before every round with preparing every topic and helped me research leading up to the competition,” Fairuz said. “Without him, I would’ve never pursued public speaking. He not only encouraged me, but also taught me the art of public speaking.”
By Natalie Cheng, Feature editor
Photo courtesy of Atia Fairuz