Superior graduate leaves a golden legacy

Jun. 10—SUPERIOR — For four years straight, Claire Farnham spun words into gold.

The Superior High School senior, who graduated May 31, earned Critic's Choice — a gold medal — every year at the Wisconsin High School Forensic Association State Speech Festival. Out of 3,050 students who performed at the state meet this spring, only 13 earned a gold medallion for that distinction.

"It's quite rare," said Rachael Holden-Kaufman, high school English teacher and head coach for the SHS speech team.

The last Spartan to earn the medallion was poet Sunmi Famule in 2017.

The 2024 four-year Critic's Choice winners had additional hurdles to overcome.

"These young people have consistently earned our highest score and gold medal, and have done so during one of the most challenging times in generations," said Wisconsin Interscholastic Speech and Dramatic Arts Association Executive Director Adam Jacobi.

During Farnham's freshman year, the COVID-19 pandemic moved both practices and competition online.

"Everything was virtual, so we even held virtual practices for the most part. All their events, their competitions were video submissions," Holden-Kaufman said.

Ramping up the difficulty, Farnham was part of a demonstration duo with classmate Olivia Strand.

"So they had to figure out how to record themselves and merge the videos together to give their speech as a team when they weren't always in the same space together," Holden-Kaufman said. "They were determined and adorable and worked through a whole bunch of things and still giggle about some of the behind-the-scenes."

Farnham earned gold in a number of different categories during her high school career: Demonstration, informative speech and public address. The new graduate, who was co-captain of the team this year, brought commitment and energy to the table. More than a great speech writer, Farnham added a dose of personality to the words.

"She's very creative, she's very clever. She really likes to personalize things and make them uniquely hers," Holden-Kaufman said.

The informative speech Farnham gave her junior year, for example, focused on ideas that were proposed, but didn't quite come into existence.

Holden-Kaufman has been able to watch Farnham's work on both the speech team and as a member of the Harvard Model UN team.

"I've gotten to see her use those public speaking skills in two really different venues, in impromptu and extemporaneous situations like Model UN and then in very planned situations on our forensics team," the speech coach said.

All 17 members of the Spartan speech team advanced to state competition this year — Gaia Belich, Sam Brill, Danny Brown, Kai Brown, Tessa Christian, Emily Cockerham, Alaina Edge, Sophia Farell, Farnham, Leah Gavin, Alex Lane, Max Lien, Summer Martinez, Tegan Nifoussi, Lili Sakuray, Liv Strand and Abbey Watt. Assistant coaches for the team are art teacher Olivia White and English teacher Emily Kelly.

Brown, a freshman, earned gold this season and sophomores Sakuray and Gavin each brought home their second golds.

"They are each in the running for being our next four-year Critic's Choice winners," Holden-Kaufman said.

The speech competition is about more than medals. Students gain interpersonal skills from giving each other feedback and hearing different perspectives and different creative takes on familiar topics. Other benefits include social connection, friendships and learning to advocate for themselves.

"And then we have the added bonus of the just priceless life skill of being able to stand up in front of a group of people and share a point of view or their own story. Many of the students have shared really personal work over the years or offered a perspective on some areas of interest that might be brand-new," Holden Kaufman said. "Being able to do that, I think, serves students so well for the rest of their lives."