Fine Arts Student of the Week: Senior in speech is ‘a force to be reckoned with’

"She has a very good chance of making it to the state and national tournaments and whether she makes it or not, I can say she is one of the best competitors and best people I have had the honor of working with,” the speech adviser stated in his nomination.

Meryl Tigenoah
Brainerd High School senior Meryl Tigenoah was named this week's Fine Arts Student of the Week for her work in speech. Computer screenshot/Jennifer Kraus

Meryl Tigenoah

Grade: Senior.

Age: 17.

Art focus: Brainerd High School Speech.

Adviser nomination: “Meryl Tigenoah has been an exceptional competitor, teammate and leader in the speech program ever since she walked through the door. After three tournaments this season, Meryl has established herself as a force to be reckoned with, finishing 2nd, 1st and 1st in the three meets respectively. Meryl has also been the student who helps assist and guide younger team members, even if they are competing in categories different from her own. “During this strange season, Meryl has gone out of her way to work with the new virtual format that students are competing in and communicates what she has learned to the rest of the team. She has a very good chance of making it to the state and national tournaments and whether she makes it or not, I can say she is one of the best competitors and best people I have had the honor of working with.”


What’s a memorable fine arts achievement for you? The Sauk Rapids tournament that was near the end of last season pops into my mind immediately. ... It’s one of the bigger tournaments. It was a tournament that I went to in my very first year of speech (ninth grade year) and I went into it with high hopes for my level of speech competitiveness at the time. I really wanted to place well and I ended up with fifth place. There were just lots of things from that performance that I picked up on and wanted to work on to get better.

What made it the best moment for me? Going back. I believe two years later, I was able to place first, and every single thing that I wanted to get through to the judges at the time that I worked on in my speech, it seemed to all work perfectly for that specific tournament. So I guess that was probably my best moment because it’s just that huge level of satisfaction from going from fifth to first and being able to deliver such a good speech at such a crazy tournament.

What do you enjoy about speech? I joined my freshman year. I was hesitant to join because I had been in debate prior so everyone’s like, “Oh you’re in debate, you should do speech, too,” because many people had done the two together. I was always like no I think I’ll just stick to (debate), but speech has really given me an opportunity to do a lot of individual work.

Aside from logistics of developing public speaking skills, communication skills and research skills for my specific category, etc., I’ve also been able to just learn how to be on a team sport and also work on myself individually and travel, you know, get to taste competition on a level in which is more independent. So that also is a really fun thing for me because I’m a bit of a competitive person when it comes to the right things. Speech also has given me a lot of room to really do lots of things that I wanted to and also it spilled over into helping me with other things, like how to do well in different projects or assignments in school.

How difficult is it doing speech virtually? Like everything else, it was a change and was a bit of a jump, especially considering speech has been pretty much the same for years, but it’s actually worked out quite well. I would have to say speech, out of all the different activities including sports, has an advantage of being able to transfer to the virtual format. We’ve had some issues with technical difficulties with Wi-Fi, but for the most part, it’s been pretty smooth. I would have to say definitely smoother than I know it’s gone for other sports or academics, which I’m really grateful for.

How does a virtual speech meet go? It’s all virtual for the most part. Some categories record their performance on a camera and then they send in the videos to be judged that way. Some of us do perform live through a specific website that’s been set up for all (National Speech and Debate Association) tournaments. ... That’s how we’ve been doing it, so rather than traveling for hours to a school speaking to a room of people, it’s been, you wake up in the morning, set up your computer, put it in a spot where you can perform and then you talk to a computer just like I’m doing right now.

How have your strategies changed with virtual? Doing speeches virtually made us focus on different things. In the beginning of the season, every single one of us had to get used to how to position the camera right. Another thing that’s changed is some of our typical public speaking skills that all of us would have mastered for the past few years, we’ve had to adapt that a little bit, such as eye contact. Right now I’m speaking at my computer’s camera, and it looks like I’m looking directly at you. Most people would want to look at the person on their screen but then my eyes shift downward and it’s not making eye contact.

This is more difficult than it seems, but it’s a thing all of us had to get used to. We don’t want to look at our judges’ eyes anymore, we have to look at our camera lens. Vocal projection is another thing, it depends on what room you’re in, how loud you are and how you project your voice changes. On top of that — hand gestures is another thing. Usually in a room, it can be more personal where you hand gesture. You use hand gestures to the judge ... and when you’re in a bedroom by yourself, performing from home, it’s quite a different environment.


What is your speech topic on this season? My speech category is extemporaneous speaking, where participants have 30 minutes to prepare an answer to a question that is randomly drawn like out of a hat. And through those 30 minutes you have to prepare a seven-minute answer with coherent points, etc. The questions are all about world events or just people. There are two sections, U.S. only and international, and I do international.

So my questions are different at every tournament as things are happening. I will never ever give the same speech, no matter what. I feel for my specific category, a lot of research comes into it, following the news comes into it a lot as well. Being a bit more knowledgeable on world events is helpful. I have done extemporaneous speaking ever since I joined, as it was what (my adviser David Pritschet suggested to me) since I was in debate. I loved it as it gave me a bit of independence. ... I am thinking of changing my category to try something new. It’s my senior year so I have nothing to lose.

Artist most admired: Marina Diamandis.

Other fine arts activities: Wind Symphony.

Dream job: Not sure.

Favorite movie: “Tres Idiotas.”

Favorite book: “Have You Seen Marie?” My favorite book is always the last thing I’ve read.

Favorite song: At the moment it’s “Lowkey” by Maty Noyes.


Favorite band: Big Time Rush.

Favorite restaurant: Boston Market.

Favorite subject: Science.

Perfect meal: A coffee with a lot of milk.

Biggest pet peeve: Making fun of someone’s laugh.

Sports/clubs: Knowledge Bowl and Speech.

Hobbies: Journaling, reading, penpalling, cooking/baking, going outside for any reason.

Parent’s names and city you live in: Roland and Linda Tigenoah, Baxter.

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at or 218-855-5851. Follow me at on Twitter.
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