Gunaraj leads Speech and Debate to victory


After weeks of preparation and research, along with countless hours of after school practices, Speech and Debate team members have wrapped up this year’s season. This year’s team consisted of roughly 30 members participating in a range of events such as Public Forum debate and Dramatic Interpretation.

Out of the nine tournaments attended this year, only one did the Speech and Debate team not place in finals.

“[The members] have done exceptionally well,” Speech and Debate adviser Leslie Jones continues, “we have had kids qualify at the national level.”

At the core of this success is the comradery of the classmates to form a close team bond. Jones explains that the teammates met together at the beginning of the year to discuss what they liked and disliked to insure the members got the most out of their experience.

“We have really worked together to help the team in a rebuilding year and [learning] to trust each other and move forward.” shared Jones.

This strong performance as a first year Speech and Debate coach at Perry would not be possible without the help of team captains for the multitude of events members compete in. One of these team captains is junior Joanna Gunaraj.

Gunaraj competed this year in original oratory. This event includes the speaker delivering a eight to ten minute memorized, motivational speech. The opportunity to combine her passions of public speaking and leading others naturally led her to join Speech and Debate her sophomore year.

“I’ve been lucky enough to impact people’s lives in a positive way by sharing my speech with them,” Gunaraj explains, “it’s really widened my perspective and grounded me in a lot of ways.”

Through garnering experience with the tournaments, Gunaraj has grown as an orator and now mentors other prospective participants as the oratory captain. Orators are encouraged to meet with Gunaraj to practice their speeches and inflection to maximize listener engagement.  

As a first year teacher at Perry, Jones shares the importance of having Gunaraj as a returning student to help lead students to create successful speeches.

“Joanna was the one that helped explain the event to them and help them understand the rules to practice with them and go over their speech with them so she has been kind of a mentor figure for the students.” Jones says.

Freshman Anya Yu is one of the orators who joined this year. Through her original oratory about change, Yu has gained confidence in her speaking and language arts.  

Yu shares, “[Joanna] coaches me a lot and then she tells me what to add and how my speech could be more presentable and more energetic.”

Another one of Gunaraj’s apprentices is freshman Patricia Yango. Over the year, Yango and Gunaraj have collaborated together to formulate foolproof and eloquent arguments conveyed in her speech.

“She is a supportive backbone and she is there to listen to my piece whenever I need it and she is there to give me honest and good criticism while still remaining my friend.”

In terms of the future, Gunaraj has plans to include the lessons she has learned in Speech and Debate in her future career. The professionalism and leadership she has learned has positively impacted her future prospects.

“I’ll most likely major in law or business,” Gunaraj continues, “I enjoy speaking and I enjoy a job that keeps me on my toes and is always calling me to do new things.”

Despite the long preparation, Jones encourages all to try Speech and Debate.

“[Members] compete with words rather than athletics and the competition is just as fierce as any sort of athletic tournament. They use their smarts, abilities and talents and it is pretty incredible.”