My legs felt like jello as I walked up to the front of the tiny classroom tucked away in the basement of a church. I was getting all the symptoms. A heartbeat that was increasingly pounding? Check. Sweating profusely in the neck area? Check. This was my worst nightmare. As the butterflies in my stomach continued to flutter, I turned around to face the room of nine. Eight students and one teacher, no more, no less, yet why was I fearing this moment? With a mouth that was as dry as the cake my mom makes, my squeaky voice managed a “Hi, my name is Annie”.Looking back at this snapshot of when I was nine years old, I see a shy timid girl, who could barely get a word out when speaking in front of a small audience. Giving a one minute speech about myself might be the most challenging action I have taken in my life, but joining the iTalk Gavel Youth Toastmasters Club is one educational experience I am so fortunate to have. It has made me who I am today: a girl who is self confident and has a voice with a message that is spread through her love of public speaking. My public speaking journey began with this critical educational experience.When I graduated from the club at the end of middle school, I continued to pursue the path of public speaking by expanding to debate. I am so fortunate that my school has an excellent speech and debate program and joining the team as a tiny freshman fish threw me into the pool of a community that became my home. Since then, I have written countless rough drafts about topics I am passionate about and competed in countless tournaments. Late night writing and lunchtime practicing sessions motivate me to dream big. And surprisingly, for the past two and half years, I have qualified for the NSDA (National Speech and Debate Association) National Tournament in Informative Speaking and TFA(Texas Forensic League) state qualified in Congressional Debate and Original Oratory. Every time I have competed in the national or state circuit has been nothing less of awe-inspiring. Each speech I give is a time I get to share my message. Each speech I listen to is a time I get to learn and think about a topic in a different perspective. With a newfound confidence gained from the iTalk Gavel Club and the debate team, I had a desire to utilize my public speaking and debate skills for the good of the community. My town has a teen court program for juveniles that have committed Class C Misdemeanors such as fighting, theft, speeding, and drug paraphernalia, etc. Volunteering every other Monday as a teen court attorney for the past three years have been so fulfilling. I believe that words spoken are just as mighty as the pen that writes and standing in the court in front of the jury made up of fellow peers defending the state or the teen defendant gives an even more meaningful importance to the words I say. It is amazing that I have this opportunity to use my public speaking skills for real life situations. My educational experience with writing debate arguments translates into writing arguments for my teen client to receive the minimum sentence. The rebuttal speeches I make to argue against my opponents during debate competitions translates into rebutting the prosecuting side. Public speaking aside, teen court has taught me to be more sympathetic, to acknowledge the mistakes we are all susceptible to, and to understand that everybody comes from all walks of life, making each and every one of us special. We hear about teen juveniles and the crimes they have committed all the time, but it’s not everyday that you can hear from the defendant themselves and have the remarkable position of helping them get back on track. Being able to represent minors charged with Class C misdemeanors is a way I can combine my love of public speaking and debate with my passion for social justice. By arguing cases for and against defendants, I have gained a new perspective of how family and socioeconomic situations can impact a child’s moral behavior and choices. Since competing in Congressional Debate, I have done a lot of research on state and federal policies leading me to become very interested in public service. My freshman and sophomore year I was a part of Texas Representative Jeff Leach’s Student Advisory Council and this year, I was chosen to be on U.S. Representative Sam Johnson’s Congressional Youth Advisory Council. With thirty new acquaintances each year, we explore how the government works as all of us are interested in civic engagement. Both of these councils have presented me a unique opportunity to engage in discussions with leaders in my community and to submit legislative ideas to make improvements to our community. To help me better comprehend the drug paraphernalia cases I have in Teen Court, I have conversed with the Chief of Plano Police Department Gregory Rushin about the causes and implications of breaking the law. I related with the determination Justice of Peace Judge John Payton had when he ran for and won his current position as a graduating high school senior. And most importantly, these experiences have given me a chance to build a community of kind hearted high schoolers to discourse about our aspirations of pursuing a life dedicated to public service in addition to the struggles we face with our own identities. Discovering diverse ways to give back to the community through public speaking gives me so much joy. I have been so fortunate to have people who encourage my aspirations especially because not everyone is surrounded by supportive individuals. One person who has been such a positive light in my life is the founder of the iTalk Gavel Club, Mrs. Jenny Hoch, who volunteers her time every other Sunday for two hours to ensure the functionality of the student lead organization. Her gentle, yet firm hand of the club is what nurtured this passion I now have for sharing my own message of having self confidence and giving back. I have been welcomed back with open arms by Mrs. Hoch to serve as a mentor for current club members. She inspires me to put aside time to advise students and to teach them how to be an effective speaker and leader in their own communities. In addition to mentoring my former club, I also judge middle school speech tournaments. The speech and debate community has contributed so much to my own self growth and it is only fair that I do the same for others on the same journey. What began as a simple speech given in iTalk Club lead to opportunities for a lifetime. While many of my classmates complain about the challenges posed by a certain Advanced Placement course, I struggle mentally with a different part of my education. Debate class, although my most enjoyable class, is also my most challenging. The coursework during school is trouble-free and comfortable, but the work done outside of class, on my own time, places me out of my comfort zone. It is strenuous to research, read, and piece together information into a speech or debate case in addition to the regular homework that needs to be done on a daily basis. Debating the case or presenting a speech, the mental game that runs in your head during debate tournaments is similar to that of an athlete. There have been plenty of times when I have came home disappointed with the results of the competition. The disappointment is sometimes enough for me to question whether or not I want to continue doing what I have done for the past few years. But at the end of the day, I have to remind myself that winning or losing is not what matters, but rather what I have gained from the experience. Each day can be a challenge, but the rewards far outweigh the difficult tasks.While I did not participate in TASS, I have a lot that I hope to look forward to in regards to contributing and learning. I don’t have a background knowledge with the majority of the courses offered, but they all interest me greatly and grow the curiosity that is always alive within me. Firstly, I hope to gain new relationships with students who each have a fiery passion that burns in them. Six weeks may sound short, but it is enough to define new friendships and share with each other our unique perspectives and opinions. Second, I wish to expand the range of interests I currently have by listening to the seminars and lectures that explore topics unimaginable by my current mind. Finally, I am excited about the TASP experience and the activities outside of the formal curriculum. I want to contribute my leadership skills to the self-government TASP exemplifies. Moreover, play a part in the organization of activities outside of the classroom to make sure no one is excluded. Overall, it is so exciting to have a chance to participate in an opportunity that brings together juniors of diverse backgrounds. I have been fortunate to have my set of public speaking education, the experiences and challenges that come with it.