BROOKINGS – Lauren Buisker has come a long way from her first time competing as a member of South Dakota State University’s forensics team.
“My first competition was hilarious. I had one event, a fairly terrible prose piece that I thought was awesome at the time. I pretended to crawl through a window in that piece; it wasn’t pretty. I ended up taking straight 5s,” said Buisker, noting that score is the lowest one can get at a tournament.
“I also exceeded the 10-minute time limit in every single one of my rounds. I remember being pretty upset about it in that moment; Andrea (Carlile, SDSU’s director of the forensics program) had to console me afterward. Times have definitely changed.”
Times have changed so much that after competing in six events at the American Forensics Association National Individual Events Tournament in Alabama earlier this month, Buisker reached the quarterfinals in after-dinner speaking and impromptu speaking categories.
She is the first Jackrabbit to reach that round since 2004.
In addition, Buisker became the university’s second AFA NIET All-American in as many years. In 2018, Viraj Patel became SDSU’s first AFA NIET All-American since that program started in 2000.
“For me, seeing what Lauren has done sets an example to the younger team members for what’s possible in their forensics career,” said Carlile. “It also shows them they can do more than this activity – they can be an excellent scholar, they can be an excellent competitor in forensics, and can also find ways to give back, whether it’s to the community in Brookings or to their respective departments or schools they’re part of here. For me, it shows the students the possibilities they can accomplish through forensics and how forensics can allow that to happen.”
Despite being a four-time national tournament participant, Buisker claims she is at a loss for words when it comes to being named an AFA NIET All-American.
“Initially, I wanted to cry because my walk to the stage brought a sense of finality to my speech career that I hadn’t yet experienced. I knew in that moment that I wasn’t ready to be done with an activity that had become such a special part of my life, but I also felt honored to know that I was finishing my career on a stage with some of the best speakers in the country,” she said. “I looked out at my teammates, coaches, Jackrabbit forensics alumni, and my friends from other schools, and I felt so thankful for all of the support they have given me the last four years. I could not have been worthy of this award without their encouragement. I felt so lucky to have such an amazing community and so many wonderful people in my life.”
A native of Volga, Buisker always knew about the SDSU forensics program and faculty members in the then-Department of Communication Studies and Theatre.
“The faculty are truly exceptional; they challenged me as both a speaker and a competitor, and I wouldn’t trade a moment of my time at SDSU for anything,” she said.
She started in forensics in seventh grade and credits that start as the foundation that has led to her collegiate success.
“Those years taught me that there is a certain thrill in public speaking that you can’t get from anything else, and over time I really learned to love that thrill,” Buisker said. “This season has certainly been the biggest whirlwind of my college career. It was full of so many lasts, like the last time I got to spend hours upon hours in a van making jokes and singing with my team, or the last time I got to see my name drop as a finalist on a poster, or the last time I got to compete at our state tournament.
“It has also really been a season of intense reflection. I constantly find myself having moments where I’ll be like, ‘remember when ... ’ and then I’ll describe some crazy speech memory to a teammate and we’ll laugh about it until we can’t anymore,” she continued. “The whirlwind really happened after the national tournament because it made me realize how transient good things can be. It seems like just yesterday, I was a freshman, scoring very few points at tournaments, and now I’m an All-American. It has really made me understand how fast time moves.”
After graduating in May, Buisker will pursue a master’s degree in communication studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“I’ve decided to focus my studies on rhetoric, which was a choice I made mostly because of my involvement in forensics,” she said. “I’ll also be working as a teaching assistant for basic public speaking courses, so I hope to inspire in students the passion for speech that has been my driving force. One day, I would love to get my doctorate and become a professor.”