Speech and debaters compete at state tourney; Rallabandi places 3rd in Varsity Oratorical Interpretation

May 2, 2016 — by Kyle Wang

Tournament takes place at Mission San Jose


As sophomore Varun Viswanath walked onto the Mission San Jose campus for the 2016 California State Speech and Debate Tournament, he checked his phone, scrolling through his messages on Facebook. Still no pep talk. 
Earlier, he had messaged one of his friends, asking him for a hype message before the tournament began. He hoped to leave his first round with a first place ranking. 
“I tried be cool, calm and collected,” Viswanath said.
Viswanath was one of four Saratoga students, along with sophomore Divya Rallabandi and seniors Aakash Thumaty and Alex Li, who qualified for the State Tournament, which took place from April 15-18.
Both Rallabandi and Viswanath returned home with trophies. Rallabandi placed third overall, having qualified to the final round of the tournament, while Viswanath placed 13th. Li and Thumaty, who competed in Parliamentary Debate, did not advance past the preliminary rounds and finished with three wins and two losses.
Going into the tournament, Viswanath felt little pressure — he wanted to relax so he could perform well. He and Rallabandi both competed in Varsity Oratorical Interpretation, an event in which competitors deliver speeches that have already been published or performed. 
Viswanath’s piece was “A Guerilla Gardener in South Central LA,” a TED Talk originally performed by Ron Finley. Finley, who lives in a “food desert,” discusses his experiences building a curbside garden and founding an urban gardening movement in his home city. 
“I really wanted to embody my character, so I could just win it,” Viswanath said.
For Viswanath, relaxing in between rounds and maintaining a degree of calmness was relatively easy. Because Mission San Jose is only a 25-minute drive from his house, Viswanath went home in between rounds and finished his math homework. 
Rallabandi, on the other hand, spent her downtime between rounds catching up with friends she had met at other tournaments and sleeping. 
Knowing these friends, Rallabandi said, helped ease her nervousness going into the first one. Still, Rallabandi was nervous, in spite of the hours she had spent preparing herself. 
Rallabandi entered each round “as if it were [her] final round” and left each round feeling as though she had underperformed in some way. 
She was surprised when she learned she would advance, first to semifinals and then the finals. Rallabandi had originally chosen her piece, Rita Pearson’s “Every Child Needs a Champion,” at the beginning of the season — it had taken her through both the highs and lows of early-season and later tournaments, from tough losses to later wins at both Invitationals and league tournaments.
At the state tournament, Rallabandi was more comfortable with the speech than she had ever been before.
“I went into every round with the goal of sharing Rita Pearson’s message that teachers should try to understand their students,” Rallabandi said.
In the process of writing and performing the speech, Rallabandi said she, too, had been affected by Pearson’s message.
“The speech enabled me to tell the audience who I truly was inside,” Rallabandi said, “and also provided me a chance to share some of the ideas I had that I didn’t have a chance to share.”
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