Terrific Teen Talker Reaches the Peak in High School Speech and Debate

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Next week, dozens of Kansas City area high school speech and debate champions will be in Dallas for their big annual national tournament.  A northland oratory star already knows she'll come away a major winner.  Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever Devon Whitton will be getting the National Forensic League's highest student honor.

It's test night for dozens of little martial arts students in the Young Champions of America program in Kansas City, North.  Their instructor, Devon Whitton, puts the mighty mites through their paces to see how proficient they've become.

"Ultimately it's about safety but it's also trying to inspire these kids to become something more," says Devon of her work with the kids.  Devon got into karate when she was in kindergarten and it became a major focus in her life.  She started teaching six years ago before she got into high school.

"It's definitely helped develop my leadership capability," says Devon, this week's Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever.  "It has assisted my ability to speak publicly."  

And what a speaker Devon is.  Brimming with confidence and talent -- and chock full of strong opinions -- she emerged as a spellbinding orator in four years of speech and debate at Oak Park High School, especially with her own original, cutting-edge material.

"I'd say I get a pretty sufficient rush from presenting something I created, more so than presenting someone else's work," says Devon.

"The hero figure of Wonder Woman kind of comes to mind," says Oak Park High School Debate and Forensics Director Arianne Fortune in describing Devon.  Fortune mentored Devon as she built herself into a national tournament qualifier Original Oratory last year and Congressional Debate this year.  And Devon got to perform her original oratory at the elite National Individual Events Tournament of Champions last month.

"She has the ability to capture an audience like no one I've ever seen," says Fortune.  "But not to do it in a demanding way or a frightening way but to do so in such a personal manner that people want to listen to her."  

With a big heart for helping people in need, Devon also put her performing talents to good use in Oak Park High School's Theater for a Cause project,  She helped organize and run -- and acting in -- several special stage productions to benefit important community causes.

"She does so many different things and has contributed to our school climate in such a positive way on so many levels," says Fortune.  Competitors in high school speech and debate amass points for tournaments at all levels, for speaking outside competitions and for service to the National Forensic League.  Devon is in rare company when it comes to that.  She is a holder of the Degree of Premier Distinction, the National Forensic League's highest student recognition.  

Fewer than one-third of one-percent of the more than 110,000 high school kids who do NFL speech and debate get to that level.

"And that makes me really, really excited," says Devon, "because I've put a lot of work into a lot of things over the past four years and to know all that work actually has gone to something and hasn't gone unnoticed is reassuring."  Highly motivated to do good and to do well-- Devon is persuasive, entertaining, incisive and compelling -- a classic orator with a lot to say -- and all of it worth listening to.

Devon's heading to suburban Chicago in the fall to begin studying to become a physician.  Lake Forest College doesn't have a cpmptitive speech and debate program, so Devon says she's going to launch a campaign to get one started -- because she wants to keep talking.

FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments.  In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism.  Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

<a href="mailto:phil.witt@wdaftv4.com">Phil Witt</a>, edited by Jason Vaughn

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