SPRINGFIELD, Mo. A Kickapoo High School grad took home first prize at the National Speech and Debate Championships last weekend.
Connor Rothschild took first place in his category of International Extemporaneous Speaking, beating out 250 of the best speech and debate competitors in the country.
Connor had 13 rounds to get through before that final round, with each speech lasting about seven minutes. In Connor's category, they don't know the topic of their speech until 30 minutes before they present.
Competing in this category requires a broad knowledge of world history and events.
"For me personally, it means reading magazines and news, like from the Economist or Foreign Affairs magazine," he said. "Waking up every morning at 7 a.m. and drinking coffee with my mom and talking about global news before I go to school every day. It's not something you can prepare for in a concentrated way, it's an every day process of becoming more and more aware of what's happening in the world."
Connor's final question was -- "was the US war in Afghanistan in vain?"
He started out by making a SpongeBob reference to make the topic more relateable.
"I had a speech about LGBTQ rights in Chechnya, to Italian prime ministrial politics to my finals round questions, which was the war in Afghanistan," he said. "So you kind of have to have a rudimentary level of knowledge on everything that's happening in the world. So it's challenging, and it makes sure you're always educated and aware of what's happening at all times."
Connor initially got involved in speech and debate because of a scheduling error. In his freshman year, he signed up for introduction to speech, but that class was full, so he was placed in advanced debate instead. Four years later, he's a national champion.
Participating in speech and debate has given Connor some great skills, including perseverance, communication, teamwork, critical thinking and leadership.
"I think speech and debate gives high schoolers an opportunity to speak about the things that they're most passionate about, and it teaches us the importance of hard work, as well as being a global citizen that understands everything that's happening around us."
Competing among some of the best speakers in the country and then winning is something Connor says he still can't believe.
"Still doesn't entirely feel real," he said. "And I still have the sneaking suspicion that I'm in a dream that I haven't woken up out of yet. But I'm happy, fortunate and blessed to be where I am."
Connor will be attending Rice University in Texas this fall. He wants to thank his parents and the speech coaches at Kickapoo High School for all their help.