Student earns spot in Interstate Oratory Competition

An SF State student is headed to a prestigious national forensics tournament after a big win last weekend.

A photo of SF State senior Chaz Kelley

SF State senior Chaz Kelley.

The victory was part of a strong showing by the SF State Forensics Team at the Northern California Forensics Association (NCFA) Championships held Feb. 10 through 12 at Chabot College in Hayward.

Chaz Kelley, a senior studying English literature, took first place in the persuasion category at the event, earning him the right to represent Northern California at the 139th Interstate Oratory Competition on April 28 and 29 at Emerson College in Boston. The winners of the competition are considered to be the best persuasive speakers in the country.

"Our program started in the '50s. As far as we know no SF State student has ever been the Northern California representative and actually gone to this competition," Director of Forensics Alexis Litzky said.

Even with his outstanding oratory skills, Kelley said he was speechless when he learned he was headed to Boston. "I feel very glad to be the first person from our school," Kelley said. "It just blows my mind."

Kelley's speech is about "independent-expenditure only committees," also known as Super PACS, which are allowed to raise unlimited amounts of money to support political candidates. Kelley felt the groups were harmful to the democratic process, but saw only satirist Stephen Colbert tackling the issue.

"I thought maybe we should deal with this in a serious and thoughtful manner and I used the forums available to me to express that," he said.

That Kelley crafted a winning speech on a weighty political topic highlights how SF State students have a desire to make the world a better place, Litzky said. "It represents the political engagement of our students, the eye toward not just social justice but social change in the best way possible," she said.

In addition to Kelley's win, junior Kyle Johnson placed in all five events in which he competed at this weekend's NCFA tournament, taking home three first-place awards, a second-place award and a third-place award. The team's varsity debaters, senior Kyle Voeller and sophomore Ashlyn Turner, took first place in the policy debate category. In addition, five SF State students have qualified for the National Individual Events Tournament (NIET), taking place April 6 through 9 at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. The team has sent at least four students to the NIET for five straight years and has had students qualify for the National Debate Tournament three of the past four years.

There are 33 students on the Forensics Team, which is open to students of any major. To learn more, visit

-- Jonathan Morales