Senior J Walters: All-State bound

Ankeny High’s 7-year drought of presence at All-State Individual Speech is over


C Manderschied

Senior J Walters hopes to continue their pursuit of public speaking in the future. Their ability to connect and share messages with people is something they want to continue. “I’m going to UNI to become an art teacher,” senior J Walters said. “If there is not already a speech coach, I’m determined to become one. I want to stick to speech and performing at least as a hobby. The idea of this just being the end doesn’t sit right with me.”

Joanna Guerrero, Social Media Editor

After seven years Ankeny High School had a student present for the Individual All State Festival hosted by Iowa High School Speech Association (IHSSA). And senior J Walters, a well-spoken talented individual, came, saw, and conquered.

“One thing that got them to All-State was their amazing voice control, their ability to convey emotion and drop down in different registers,” speech coach and language arts teacher Luke Schut said. “They can really drive home the emotion of their pieces just with their voice.” 

The Individual All-State Festival was held on March 27, 2023 at the University of Northern Iowa. A day where creative and brilliant individuals from high schools across Iowa were able to exhibit their hard work in front of judges after a successful season. 

“We don’t see a lot of opportunities for art to be celebrated, especially performance arts other than the play and musical, but even then it’s not as talked about. All-State is a place to celebrate all the hard work you have put into your pieces,” Walters said. “It gives students the space to be somewhere where everyone is there to perform, and no one’s there to watch and make fun of you. The community in speech is so warm and welcoming. It’s just a bunch of artists and performers excited to perform with each other and show their stuff.” 

High school performers are chosen to be a part of the All-State after performing at district and state levels. Performers are selected based on their talent, creativity, and expression by judges. The best of the best, as coach Schut states, are chosen to be a part of All-State. 

“All-State is not a competition, they just want you to be able to show off how good you are to everyone else,” coach Schut said. “So when you get selected for All-State it means at the state of Iowa level you are one the best people and they want everyone to see you.” 

Those who have been chosen have been practicing for months to perfect their performances and pieces. The process of making and refining these pieces require dedication, discipline, and hard work. 

“The rehearsals were every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. But rehearsing had also been just me sitting in my car running over my poetry for like an hour straight,” Walters said. “It was me practicing whenever I could, running through the same line over and over again to figure which inflection actually was going to work and which inflection was going to give what you wanted it to give.” 

Walters has been doing speech since the ninth grade, therefore they have acquired many skills when it comes to performing poems. 

Language arts teacher and journalism adviser Alissa Hansen recalls having Walters as a sophomore in English 10 and as a junior in journalism. 

“The minute that J recited a poetic performance that sought to sell me a blue pen for an argumentative assignment in English 10, I was moved,” Hansen said. “J’s words brought tears to my eyes! I was literally overcome with emotion about a blue pen. J has a way with words and has an ability to take even the most mundane of things and turn them into something exquisite and alive. It’s impressive.”

Walters has made poems since they were in the sixth grade. 

“J and I have worked on things for a few years now, but this year J made most of their pieces together on their own,” Schut said. “But we did go through together and workshop a few of them and figured out what the best order for the pieces were.”

Walters loves everything about performing poetry. They enjoy how they can express emotions and messages through the art of poetry. 

“With poetry, I can say what I want to say in a more subdued, subtle, nuanced, poetic way, instead of reading a monologue. The beat that goes with poetry and the rhythm that you have to read it in, it’s all very nice to do,” Walters said. “I walk a fine line between acting and poetry. Usually when people perform poetry, they just perform the words with slight rhythm. I love the idea of acting out the words and letting yourself get worked up and emotional; I love how orchestrated it is.” 

At All-State J performed a literary program which contained five pieces that forged together to create a story. 

“The set is called ‘The tale of two strangers.’ It contains five pieces. The first two are ones that I have written. The third one is by a poet named Kevin Canter, the fourth is by a poet Rachel H., and the fifth is a journal written by Jason,” Walters said. “It’s about falling in love and the grief of getting broken up with and falling out of it and recovering through it. The first two pieces are about having a crush and then dating, the third one is about breaking up, the fourth and fifth are about recovering and moving on from the relationship. It captures the recovery process of falling in and out of love.” 

Walters hoped that they had made an impression on the judges, and coach Schut says the All-State Festival performance was a success. 

“J had a great performance… They definitely stole the show during their session,” coach Schut said.

This was Walters’ last hoorah as a senior, a way to say goodbye to a great season. 

“I hoped to have stood out. The way my pieces are set up, it’s like a story, I hope they experienced the arch. I don’t want my set and performance to be one of many,” Walters said. “Love is something everyone can relate to and I hope the judges got taken on a journey that reminded them of their high school romances and past relationships.” 

Whenever Walters performs, they let themselves encapsulate the pieces fully and deeply.

“It’s all just fully taking it and letting yourself become your piece,” Walters said. “I feel like if you’re performing a piece and you’re not letting yourself be a part of that piece then you’re not performing.” 

Despite being the first Ankeny High student at All State in seven years, they stated that they didn’t feel any pressure. They felt more pressure getting to All-State. They just hope to make a difference at Ankeny and to have made coach Schut proud. 

“Schut is like my best friend. I love that teacher so much,” Walters said. “He allows me to do my thing when I write. He provides good support, and he provides that confidence that I don’t have in myself. It’s the pat on the back you need.”

Walters hopes that this will only be the beginning of speech and that it will continue to flourish and get the recognition it deserves. They hope to encourage students to join speech so that it continues to flourish.

“Speech is great. You have full control of what you want to perform. It’s wonderful. The people you will meet through it and the performances you will have, the judges, the critiques that you will get… it’s all a wonderful opportunity,” Walters said. “It’s a wonderful thing to try out, and it’s a wonderful thing to stick with. It’s a wonderful community to be in, and it’s just a wonderful idea.”