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Student named national champ for dramatic speech

April 18, 2005

Photo of Robert HawkinsStudent Robert Hawkins won the national championship in oral interpretation of drama at the 2005 American Forensic Association National Individual Events Tournament, held earlier this month at Kansas State University.

In a nine-minute monologue, Hawkins acted out excerpts from "The Exonerated," an off-Broadway play and movie that tells the true stories of six people set free after spending years on death row for crimes they did not commit. He played the role of Kerry Max Cook, who spent 20 years in prison after a wrongful conviction for the rape and murder of one of his neighbors.

"Robert has demonstrated that when a student with uncommon talent combines it with dedication and hard work, really exceptional moments are possible," said Shawn Whalen, SFSU director of forensics and coach of the Speech and Debate Team. "He has been an enormous asset to our program through his own performances and through his mentoring and feedback to our other students."

Hawkins, a Sacramento native who graduated from James Logan High School in Union City in 2002, will complete his bachelor's degree in English this summer. He plans to teach English at Logan after he completes his teaching credential, which he plans to pursue this fall at California State University, East Bay. He is scheduled to take over the Logan debate team -- recognized as one of the best in the country -- in two years.

Debate transformed Hawkins from a quiet adolescent struggling in school to an outspoken honors student able to channel his pain and anger through public speaking.

"When I saw the black males doing this performance-based argumentation, the second I sat in my seat that day I knew I could be good because of everything I'd gone through," said Hawkins, whose mother is African American and father is Mexican American.

Featured in "Accidental Hero," a 2002 PBS documentary about the Logan debate team, Hawkins grew up amid poverty and substance abuse. Problems at his home were so severe that he did not attend school for two years, missing the fifth and sixth grades entirely.

The SFSU Speech and Debate Team has won many debates and individual events over the years, including the 2001 National Forensics Association championship in duo oral interpretation. Hawkins' championship, however, is SFSU's first in the more prestigious AFA tournament. More than 850 students from about 110 institutions competed in the national tournament.

Competing against universities that had as many as 120 students participating in the AFA tournament, SFSU's five-student squad placed 16th in the country in tournament sweepstakes. Hawkins was ranked the 11th best individual speaker in the nation overall. In addition, Hawkins and Nathan Feingersh finished in second place in duo interpretation, Hawkins and Kevin Briancesco reached the quarterfinals in dramatic duo interpretation, and Briancesco reached the quarterfinals in oral interpretation.

At the Cross Examination Debate Association National Debate Tournament -- the largest collegiate policy debate tournament in the country -- held in March at SFSU, team members Allison Brownlow and Alexis Litzky finished tied for 33rd overall. Brownlow was named an All-American, and Litzky was named an Academic All-American.

-- Matt Itelson


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Last modified April 18, 2005 by University Communications