RESEDA — For most teens, graduation is the crowning glory to their high school years. But for others, the chance to win a national competition may be a far more glittering crown.
That's why Megwynn White, 18, of Sun Valley, was on a Minneapolis stage last week competing in a national speech tournament while her classmates at Cleveland High School were picking up diplomas.
"I was pretty upset at first about missing graduation because I felt there was no closure to high school," White said. "But when we got into the finals, I forgot all about graduation."
An aspiring actress, White and her Cleveland teammate, Stacy Endman, 17, of Encino, captured second place over hundreds of competitors at the National Forensic League Tournament.
The award in the duo interpretation category, for their performance of a 10-minute segment of the Tony Award-winning play, "Master Class," reinforced their dreams of a life in the theater.
White will begin theater studies at New York University in the fall. "I really like New York and I am very serious in pursuing theater as a career," she said. Instead of wearing a cap and gown, she and her teammate won a standing ovation--and a 2-foot-tall silver trophy each--for their performance before a crowd of 3,000.
Endman, a junior, also plans to chase an acting career in New York. She is one of only 16 youths nationwide selected for a summer theater arts workshop next month at NYU, where she plans to enroll after graduation next year. "I hope to be an actress--not a waitress, an actress," emphasized Endman.
After a year of district competitions, more than 2,300 students qualified for the national weeklong tournament. Founded in 1931, the tournament is the oldest and largest speech tournament in the nation, with contestants from 47 states and Guam, said James Copeland, tournament director.
During the tournament last week, students, including 66 from the Los Angeles area, competed in 14 events broken into segments for debate, public speaking and literary interpretation.
Out of thousands of teams nationwide, 179 qualified for the national tournament in duo interpretation. Competitors were pared to 60 teams, then 30, 14, and eventually six in the final, 13th round, Copeland said. A nine-member panel of judges placed the Cleveland team second to Grapevine High School from Texas.
The tournament follows graduations in most other states throughout the nation, Copeland said, but California graduations are held later. He said he once told a disappointed California senior, "You can graduate any time, but you can compete at the nationals only once."