George Mason Students Secure Second in the Country in Collegiate Speech

A group of 20 students face the camera and smile.
The George Mason University Forensics Team poses with its 2nd place trophy at the National Forensic Association Tournament.

On any given Saturday, you might find the members of the George Mason University Forensics Team, or intercollegiate speech team, huddled together in an empty classroom.

After a rousing round of vocal warmups, the students—nearly half of them students in the Schar School of Policy and Government—join hands and recite “The Covenant,” a poem passed down since the team’s founding more than 50 years ago. At the completion of the poem and a after a round of pep talks from coaches and captains, the team disperses to compete against teams from across the country for the title of most persuasive, informative, or poetic speaker (among other titles).

With a glance at the “wall of champions,” students can trace their competitive lineage decades back—with Schar School students scattered throughout the wall. One alumnus, former captain Jacob Thompson and two-time national champion, credits the Schar School for its seamless integration with the team.

“Being a Schar School student and competing on the Mason speech team is really the best of both worlds,” he said. “You get a chance to travel the country and practice your advocacy with the team then directly apply those skills to help change the country through the connections and opportunities the Schar School provides.” 

The Forensics Team has existed longer than Mason itself. With a focus on both competitive success and education, the team has attracted Schar School students since its founding. Its current cohort of 10 Schar School students compete in a wide range of events, from poetry interpretation to extemporaneous speaking—an event in which the speaker is given a political question and 30 minutes to prep a seven-minute memorized answer with sources and argumentation. Students hail from across the country with varying prior speech experience, but one thing binds them together: a passion for advocacy.

Evanna Koury, a first-year Schar School government and international politics major, sought the speech team as an avenue for both personal and academic passions.

“Being a queer, disabled woman interested in government and political advocacy is challenging because I can't often get my foot in the door,” she said. “The Forensic Team changed that. I get seven to 10 minutes of uninterrupted talking time to amplify my voice with an amazing community.”

Mason’s speech team has been among its most successful competitive teams of all time. The team has been a Top 5 national program consistently since its founding, taking second in the country at the national championships for the past three years.

With advocacy as a focus, it is unsurprising the teams student population is so dominated by Schar School students, including seniors Molly Izer and Eleni Mercer, who share the team’s captainship and are both students in the Honors College. In fact, Schar School students earned an impressive array of awards at this year’s 2024 American Forensic Association National Speech Tournament, held in April, as well as taking second place in Division I at the National Forensic Association Tournament, its sister tournament held just a week later.

  • Eleni Mercer, senior government and international politics major
    • Semifinalist, Informative Speaking (AFA)
    • 2nd place, Program Oral Interpretation (AFA)
    • National Champion, Program Oral Interpretation (NFA)
    • Semifinalist, Poetry Interpretation (AFA)
    • 9th place Individual Sweepstakes (AFA)
    • 2nd place, Duo Interpretation (AFA)
    • Octofinalist, After Dinner Speaking (NFA)
    • Octofinalist, Informative Speaking (NFA)
    • 3rd place, Duo Interpretation (NFA)
  • Molly Izer, senior government and international politics major 
    • Semifinalist, Impromptu Speaking (AFA)
    • 4th place, Impromptu Speaking (NFA)
    • National Champion, Informative Speaking (AFA)
    • National Champion, Informative Speaking (NFA)
    • National Champion, Poetry Interpretation (AFA)
    • Quarterfinalist, Persuasive Speaking (NFA)
  • Grace Martinez-Cora, freshman government and international politics major
    • Octofinalist, Poetry Interpretation (NFA)
  • Lexi Martinez, sophomore government and international politics major 
    • Quarterfinalist, Prose Interpretation (AFA)
    • Octofinalist, Prose Interpretation (NFA)
    • Semifinalist, Informative Speaking (AFA)
    • Octofinalist, Dramatic Interpretation (NFA)
    • Quarterfinalist, Informative Speaking (NFA)

“It is always exciting to have Schar School majors on the team,” said Dawn Lowry, director of the Forensics Team and lifetime forensicator. “They possess the unique combination of idealism and practicality. They can see a better world, but they also understand the institutional and societal structures that shape our lives.” 

While the team continues to attract many Schar School students, each Forensics Team alum leaves the experience a passionate advocate, citizen, and human being.