This McKendree junior isn’t afraid to speak his mind. That’s why he wins awards.

Meet student of the week Andrew Wagner

Andreew Wagner, a junior at McKendree University, is a key member of the school's speech team.
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Andreew Wagner, a junior at McKendree University, is a key member of the school's speech team.

Don’t be afraid of public speaking, says McKendree University junior Andrew Wagner, who used to be a shy teen until he joined the speech team in high school.

“It really has brought me out of my shell,” Wagner said.

Now the Waterloo High School graduate is an award-winning member of the successful speech team at McKendree in Lebanon.

Wagner admits that McKendree wasn’t his first college choice, but now he’s glad he picked the university that offers an abundance of extracurricular activities.

“I love the people, and I love the atmosphere,” Wagner said of McKendree.

McKendree’s speech team is coached by Stephen Hagan, an associate professor of sociology, and Nick Fischer, a master’s degree student at Saint Louis University, who serves as an assistant coach.

“They really drive home working hard and kind of practicing the format of everything to really understand how the events work,” Wagner said.

Hagan recruited Wagner out of Waterloo High. “He was good, but he wasn’t really striving to his full potential,” Hagan said.

Wagner struggled his freshman year at McKendree, but then decided he didn’t want to be mediocre any longer, according to Hagan.

“He wanted to go after it full force,” Hagan said of Wagner. “He’s super smart. He’s willing to put in the work that needs to be done.”

Hagan described Wagner as a bright and determined individual.

“He’s a naturally gifted and intelligent person who is really a hard worker,” Hagan said. “He will put the work in and get it done.”

This year, Wagner was a national-level competitor on McKendree’s speech team.

Andrew Wagner is a member of the speech team at McKendree University. Provided

Q: What made you join the speech team in high school?

A: “In high school, I really wanted to branch out ... A bunch of my friends encouraged me to join. ... I started my freshman year. I was very shy, which is not good for public speaking. It really brought me out of my shell. I found an activity that allows me to speak my mind and get involved in issues that I wouldn’t otherwise. That’s what really has kept me in it — I can be so opinionated and so interested in so many different things and be allowed to express that in whatever way I want.”

Q: Do you compete in certain categories?

A: “I do mostly public speaking. In high school, I did impromptu and extemporaneous, which is mostly political. In college, I’ve branched more to informative speaking as well as persuasive.”

Q: What awards have you won recently?

A: “I won the Missouri State Tournament in informative speaking. I didn’t get the Missouri State Champion title, because I’m not from Missouri but they allow us to compete there. I actually got first place. Then the second place person was the ‘state champion’ so called ... At the Illinois State Tournament, I got seventh place in the same event — in informative speaking. At the first ever National Speech Championship, I placed fifth place in the national in impromptu speaking. I had a really good season this last season. I worked really hard for it as well.”

Q: How does a speech competition work?

A: “Usually we have to get up at 5 in the morning. We put on our full suit and go to whatever school we are competing at. Typically, the tournament starts at 6 a.m. We have two rounds of preliminary events, and then we have judges in each of those rounds. Based on the judging in each of those rounds, they determine who goes to a final round. The final round determines the final six scores. There’s usually like six people who go to the final round.”

Q: Do you get a topic ahead of time and pre-write your speech?

A: “For most of them you have it pre-written, then you memorize it. Two of the ones I do including impromptu and extemporaneous, you get the prompts that day. You kind of have to make a speech up on the spot. Those are the ones I’ve done for the longest time. I’ve kind of had more success with those previously. I’ve enjoyed those a little bit more.”

Q: How do you prepare if you don’t have the prompt ahead of time?

A: “A lot of it is learning the style of it and learning the outline. There’s a specific outline that we have to do — an attention getter, then addressing the prompt that you’re given, and then kind of going into analyzing it through two different points. We practice kind of the format of it with the different prompts then you are kind of prepared for the different prompts in competition.”

Q: Do you have a career goal after college?

A: “Careerwise, I haven’t thought too much about yet. I’m mostly thinking about going to grad school for now. Then after that, figuring out exactly where I want to end up. I considered working for an NGO (non-governmental organization); I’ve considered working for the federal government as well as maybe the U.N. some day. I try and dream big and think big. I’m really hoping to go to grad school and see where I go from there.”

Q: How do you think participating in speech has helped you grow as a person?

A: “It really has brought me out of my shell. It’s helped me think in ways I wouldn’t before, especially thinking critically and analyzing multiple parts of a problem or situation. Just having that on-the-spot thinking really helps in everyday life.”

Q: Do you have any advice for high school and college students who may be afraid to join the speech team?

A: “I know a lot of people tell me that public speaking isn’t their thing. People don’t like talking in front of people; they feel really nervous. I would say ‘Don’t be afraid.’ Be willing to be who you are and be true to your audience. The worst thing that could happen is you mess up, but you always move pass those mess ups. It’s never bad in the end.”

Q: Have you ever messed up before?

A: “Oh yeah. I’ve had my fair share of mess ups, especially in the limited preps where you kind of go off the cuff and you have to make it up as you go. I may say something and I get focused on this one little thing. And I just get caught up in it, and I can’t move passed it for some reason, even though I know I really should. That happens probably more often then it should; more than I wish it would.”

Q: Do you have any tips for people who struggle with public speaking?

A: “Don’t focus on your mistakes, focus on what you want to say. Focus on what you are saying and the meaning behind the words.”

Jamie Forsythe: 618-239-2562, @BND_JForsythe

Meet Andrew Wagner

  • Age: 19
  • School: Junior at McKendree University
  • Major: international relations
  • College activities: secretary for Model U.N., speech team, president of the fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, marching band, concert band, wind ensemble, president of the board for Kappa Kappa Sigma
  • Instruments: Trumpet until eighth grade and then moved to French Horn
  • Graduated: Waterloo High
  • Family: parents Charlene and Mark Wagner and stepsister Abbie Whitehead
  • Pets: a cat named Bug and a dog named Sydney
  • Summer internship: Eckert Enyart, Attorneys at Law in Belleville
  • Job: Shift leader at Cold Stone Creamery in Shiloh (Favorite treat: cotton candy ice cream with gummy bears and sprinkles)
  • Favorite class: Political science
  • Favorite movie: Kill Bill Vol. 1
  • Favorite TV show: Steven Universe on Cartoon Network
  • Favorite restaurant: Shogun Japanese Steakhouse
  • Favorite food: sushi
  • Summer vacation: Mexico (He plans to practice speaking Spanish)