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Belleville West Graduate Has The Secret To Speechmaking Success

Belleville West's Jaylon Muchison recently won Optimist International’s 2020 Oratorical World Championship.
Provided by Jaylon Muchison
Belleville West's Jaylon Muchison recently won Optimist International’s 2020 Oratorical World Championship.

For Jaylon Muchison, speech has paid off in a big way. The Belleville West High School graduate netted $22,500 from Optimist International’s 2020 Oratorical World Championship — winning his regional and state rounds before claiming the international title.

That money will make a huge difference as the 18-year-old heads to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign this fall. He plans to pursue a double major in acting and communications.

“I might be set for at least my first year or two for college, at least,” Muchison said.

It’s not his only big recent victory. Muchison was also named National Student of the Year by the National Speech and Debate Association.

He explained on St. Louis on the Air that joining the speech and acting team as a high school freshman was one of the best decisions he’s ever made.

“And not just because eventually I got money to help me get through college,” he said. “It’s taught so many life values. It’s helped me steer my path to what I want to do for the rest of my life. And I know I have so many experiences that I never will forget, because of the decision for me to start doing things like speech and debate and getting into theater.”

Optimist International is a national service organization based in St. Louis. Muchison is the first St. Louis-area winner of its world championship, which launched in 2015.

Students spoke on the theme of “Just Imagine a World Without Boundaries.” Muchison, however, took a counterintuitive approach, noting, “We need boundaries so we can overcome them.”

He said he always looks for “the hardest way.”

“I knew that I wanted [my speech] to be different,” Muchison explained. “I thought about it really hard, and as I say in speech, looking back on my history as an African American person, there are so many hardships our community has gone through, even now. And I think about and, we wouldn’t have been able to get to the point where we are, had it not been for the boundaries that made us take action. … Boundaries aren’t this all-positive thing in the world that we need to experience all the time, but if we want to progress, we need to establish that there are boundaries, and that we need to overcome them. And they make us better in the end. We can only progress by overcoming them.”

Muchison offered two tips for people struggling with giving a speech: Remember to breathe, and make sure you believe what you’re saying.

“It doesn’t matter how far you get in public speaking, you’re always going to feel nervous,” he said. “But it all starts with that first breath. … And if you believe what you’re saying, people are going to believe you.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.