Sikh Student Makes History By Winning National Speech Tournament

By: Maanik Chotalla

Every year, thousands of high school students from across the country compete to qualify for the National Speech and Debate Tournament, this year held in Birmingham, Alabama. Qualifying for the tournament is a feat that most competitors never eclipse in their careers. Even fewer make it through the gauntlet of the tournament. And in the end, only one competitor in each event stands as a national champion.

Last Friday, on June 23rd, JJ Singh Kapur, a junior from Des Moines, Iowa, was named the 2017 National Champion in Original Oratory. He is the first Sikh to champion an event at the tournament.

“I feel very blessed to have been able to compete at this level. I know that not a lot of people get to speak on that stage,” said JJ about his victory.

JJ’s win did not come as a surprise. Having championed prestigious tournaments hosted by Harvard University, Emory University, as well as the Tournament of Champions this year, many expected him to easily sweep the tournament. But JJ never had his sights set on just winning. “Before every round, I would remind myself that I’m giving this speech for Waheguru, I didn’t think about anything else. I listened to Deh Shiva before I walked out onto that final stage. I wanted to embrace every round like it was my last.”

JJ’s speech, entitled “Let’s Dance” examines the implications of stories and how they are told in American culture. Pulling the discussion to his Sikh faith, he pointed out how coverage immediately following the 9/11 attacks created, “A simplified narrative where all Sikhs and Muslims are national villains.”

But he hopes that his speech will change that dangerous mindset. “It always starts with us kids. If my speech can resonate with young Sikhs, that’s the biggest thing for me, to make an impact on kids,” said JJ.

The most incredible part? JJ still has one more year to compete in Speech and Debate. It’s hard to imagine what he will be able to do next year, but wherever he goes, the Sikh community certainly has his back.

You can watch JJ’s championship speech here.

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