Find Your Passion: Speaking of Passion…
By Sarah Caroline Willcox
“I love to talk,” Shalonda Capers says matter-of-factly. For a member of The University of Alabama’s nationally acclaimed Alabama Forensics Council, there seems to be no better quality than a love of words – besides, perhaps, enthusiasm, which was vibrating from the phone receiver during a recent chat with the UA debater.
Capers is not a typical UA student. She is 29, married and has three children. However, she credits her position on the debate team as her most challenging feat so far.
“My professors, my coaches, my teammates—the people who have seen something in me that I have not always seen in myself, have pushed me. They didn’t cheat me. They were hard on me,” Capers says.
A California girl, Capers met and married her husband in San Diego when she was just 17. They moved to Birmingham, his hometown, and she enrolled at Jefferson State Community College.
“[Two years after arriving at Jeff State], I was at a church dinner serving food, and this man came up to me and asked if I had ever considered debate,” Capers recalls. “I asked him why, and he told me he thought I would be good at it since I was so good at talking!”
It turns out, the man had been on the JSCC Forensics Council and arranged a position for Capers on the team. After speaking at JSCC for one year, Capers was discovered by Dr. Frank Thompson, director of the UA Forensics Council, at the annual Crimson Classic debate tournament in the fall of 2006. Thompson, who had been with the Council for 26 years at the time, says he knew she would be an asset to the team.
“I was taken by her energy and positive attitude,” says Thompson, an associate professor of communication studies within UA’s College of Communication and Information Sciences. “Her warm personality and laughter was contagious. “I just started talking to her about her plans after community college and mentioned that we would have a place for her on the UA team.
A year after Thompson offered her the position, Capers transferred to UA.
“As far as being part of a team, I love that idea. I had to maintain a 3.0, which I’ve never done before, but if I wanted to be on the team, I had to do it,” says Capers.
Today, Capers says her focus is dramatic interpretation. In this form, debaters take a scene from a published, dramatic script and perform it in a distinctive way. To give respect to the work, it is read out of a black binder to acknowledge that it is not the performer’s original words.
The team competes in at least one tournament a month, and each member must be prepared to present a minimum of three pieces. The goal is to qualify a performance for the national championship every April. In the past 30 years, the UA team has won more than 6,900 regional awards, 815 national awards and had 97 individual champions. The University of Alabama debate and forensics program has won 16 national debate championships.
Last year, Capers was a national dramatic interpretation finalist for her performance of “Low,” by Rah Goddess. The piece is about a woman struggling with a mental breakdown and her eventual demise.
“I was doing another piece during the season, but Frank said I couldn’t do anything new with it, so he gave me ‘Low,’ and it got me into the finals. Sometimes you have to change it up,” Capers says.
Perhaps the even more impressive part is how Capers fits in such a demanding job with three young children at home.
“They have gotten used to their mother walking around the house or driving and talking to herself because I have to practice whenever possible,” Capers says. “My children, even my 3-year-old, memorize certain parts and will recite them with me as I practice.”
Capers’ balance between school, forensics and family has improved her as a person, she says. The benefits are not just her own, her coach says. Her sacrifices have made her teammates value their positions even more, he says.
“They see what it takes to truly be committed to an activity,” Thompson says. “Each morning she has to get three children ready for school and drive 60 miles to campus. This makes waking up in a dorm and walking across to a class seem not so much of a sacrifice.”
Following her UA graduation, Capers plans to attend seminary school this fall. She’ll take with her memories and impacts on various aspects of her life and that of her children.
“I am a better student, a better mother and a better friend because of my team … My experience at UA has been a lifelong dream. I’m a part of what I’m passionate about—inspiring through words.”
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Sarah Caroline Willcox is a junior at The University of Alabama, majoring in public relations, with a minor in English. She is from Birmingham.
This story is part of the Find Your Passion series. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.