Forensics: it’s not just the study of dead people

Teacher and forensics coach Pamela Medford-Conley was once offered ten thousand dollars and free tuition to college to be the coach of her college’s debate team.

Since Conley was fourteen years old, she had been involved in the world of forensics—not the science but the speaking kind of forensics. She ended up using these past experiences to form what her life circles around now.

While she was more familiar with the forensics aspect of speaking, being offered money to go to college by simply being the coach of the debate team was an easy decision. Her coaching of the debate team at Central Michigan University eventually evolved into her going back to her roots and becoming the coach of the forensics team at FHC.

“While I was writing my thesis, I started subbing,” Conley said. “I was subbing at Forest Hills, and the debate [and] forensics coach asked if I were a judge [for forensics competitions]. She was doing it and did not actually feel real comfortable teaching it. I was like, ‘sure’ because I happened to sub for her, so we were familiar with each other.”

The club is definitely for everyone because it is so diverse.

— Amy Wang

While most may think of science, forensics is a broad term; everyone can find their niche in the forensics field—whether it be studying dead bodies, competitively speaking, or accounting. 

“In speech team, we have a joke,” Conley said. “It’s not just for dead people. Forensics actually means a search for truth. And it’s really old. It goes back to the Greeks, and that’s why you’ll hear forensic medicine, forensic science, and forensic accounting. It started off originally as oratory, which is the persuasive speech informative. It was this really old expositional kind of under the Greeks; then it’s kind of expanded as the entire field of communication to include this theatrical piece.”

The original forensics competition began as oratory, but it eventually stemmed into many more categories such as informative, prose, sales, and even poetry readings. Junior and co-captain Amy Wang found herself entangled in the world of forensics with a speech prepared to inform the judges on something she was passionate about.

Amy started her sophomore year and immediately found amusement in the idea of being able to talk about whatever she finds interest in. For her, this interest was in classical music.

“The purpose of an informative speech is to inform someone,” Amy said “You can pick whatever topic you want. I know people that choose [to speak about] sea animals. I did classical music because that was what I was interested in. I know other people that have done speeches on Shakespeare or even Julius Caesar.”

Along with the informative aspect of the speeches, comedic relief is also a key point of the speeches. Whether it be including puns or jokes, another small goal is to make the judges and audience laugh; seeing the creativity included is one of Amy’s favorite parts of the competitions.

While Amy also happens to be on the debate team, she finds more freedom and individualism within the forensics club. No matter what she is finding interest in at the moment, she can find a way to incorporate that into her speeches.

“The club is definitely for everyone because it is so diverse,” Amy said. “I also do debate, and some people don’t always enjoy it because they only focus on one topic per year. For forensics, you can do whatever you want. You can do a speech on whatever you’re passionate about. If you’re good at history or thinking really fast, you can choose impromptu where you’re given a few minutes to think and then give a minute speech. It is for everyone because there are so many different categories.”

Sophomore Summer Wu agrees that the forensics club is a great form of expression.

Summer has been on the forensics team since her freshman year. Last year, she performed a sales speech, in which she was trying to essentially sell a product to the judges, but this year, she is experimenting with more creativity. At her next competition, she will be performing prose—which is reciting excerpts from a book and actually becoming the character.

“My book is called Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons From the Crematory,” Summer said. “[The author is] a mortician, and she tells of her journey of realizing that there are flaws of the way society views death and that it should be seen as a more open viewpoint. In my speech, I get to be her and come to that realization through certain events.” 

Although Summer has been apart of the forensics team and performed a variety of speeches, she is constantly being surprised about how popular forensics speech is, and like Amy, finds enjoyment in listening to her competitors’ speeches. 

“I didn’t realize how much of a thing forensics speech was until I went to the competition,” Summer said. “I saw all of these people with perfect speeches and doing really impressive speeches, and it just really surprised me.”

Expressing creativity and finding their voice is the highlight of the forensics team and what the members of the team love about the club. Allowing Conley the privilege of helping students break new barriers and step out of their comfort zone is the highlight of her job.

“I love helping students find their voice,” Conley said. “It’s such an amazing thing to get to see people who maybe were uncomfortable with public speaking, who were not sure how to construct a speech that’s persuasive or informative, find that confidence and find their voice and then present that out. That’s a powerful thing, and it’s a skill that you will use for the rest of your life.”