Rahma Gaye, a junior at Capital High School, recently won state championships in the Washington State Speech and Debate Tournament with her speech “What’s in a Name.” Washington Interscholastic Activities Association held the tournament on March 12 over Zoom. She won first place out of 41 entries in the 3A oratory event, and was surprised by her win.
“It didn’t really sink in. I never really thought that my speech was all that amazing or anything,” shares Rahma. “Everybody has really good speeches. If you’re competing at things like state or the national level, you’re bound to get some great speeches.”
While Rahma may have been surprised by her success, everyone around her was able to see her excellence. After winning first place, her mom told her, “I don’t know what you were stressing about!”
Rahma is very humbled by her win, sharing that she tries not to see it as a competition. “I just see it as every person sharing their own story and their own idea out to the world,” she shares. “Each idea is valid, you know. It’s true of your own experiences and the things that you’re interested in, so, I take it from that stance.”
Gaye now qualifies for the 2022 National Speech & Debate Tournament, which will take place in Louisville, Kentucky, this upcoming June. Because the state tournament was virtual this year, the national contest will be the first time Rahma will present her speech in person. “I think I would’ve liked in person,” Rahma says. “I would’ve had some more practice for sure.It was fully asynchronous, you give it to them, and they put it through each round.” She shares, “It wasn’t as fun.”
Due to this, Rahma is very excited to visit Kentucky, a place she has not been to, and present her speech among peers from all over the country. The energy will be livelier, and the performances more animated when told in person. “I am excited, also really scared,” she shares. “This is the first time I am doing something so big. It’s awesome, and I get to leave school a week early!”
Her speech discusses her experience as a young Black Muslim woman in America, the intersections of her identity and the need for more positive and diverse representation. When asked about her hopes for sharing her speech with a larger audience, she says:
“I think the biggest thing I hope for is that more people actually hear somebody’s perspective. They kind of see us a little bit, but we are in the background. So, being able to write about this kind of topic and share it with so many people, I’m hoping that people begin to become more aware that, ‘Oh wow, this stuff is actually happening.’ You know, there are people affected by not having enough representation.”
“We live in a time where we have so many resources to be able to understand one another, and I think it just takes some empathy, really, to constantly keep in mind,” she continues, “and use the resources that we have to understand people a lot better.”
She has always enjoyed writing as an outlet. “When you experience so many different kinds of things, writing is a great outlet to share your ideas and thoughts without necessarily always speaking them,” Rahma says. “Throughout my life, I’ve loved to write stories. I loved to write essays and everything. You get so much more creativity to express yourself, and I think that really became magnified when I was writing my speech.”
Rahma credits a lot of her success to the support received from her family, friends and debate coach. “They’ve been super duper supportive,” Rahma says of her family. “They know some things that we have to go through, you know, living in Olympia and coming from an area that was a little bit more diverse, so, understanding the experiences that I’m talking about. They’ve always raised me to be an advocate, to speak up if you see something and not just stand by, so, I definitely get a lot of that from them.”
Her debate coach, Johnathan Moore, is another big supporter. “[He] has helped so much, super supportive, always cheering me on,” she shares. “He’s helped me fix things with my performance and my speech, so really I credit a lot of my success to him.”
Her chosen subject is something very close to her heart. “There’s huge power in pronouncing someone’s name properly because it can make somebody feel like they matter,” she explains. “Their personality, everything that comes with a name matters too. We don’t think about that all the time, what’s in a name, names don’t matter but, they hold a lot of weight for each person.”
A few of her favorite subjects in school are English, history, and psychology. While not as thrilled to fill out college applications, she is looking forward to being a senior in the fall. “I would love to go to Ivy league school,” she shares. “But honestly, anything that will allow me to be impactful. That is the biggest thing, to become an impactful person.” She wants to make a positive difference in the world, and it is clear that she will.