Public speaking is difficult. Representing JMU in national speaking competitions is even more so.
But for Nathan Selove and his teammates, going for the win is as exhilarating as it is challenging. It’s also particularly rewarding for the JMU senior who, despite Asperger’s Syndrome, has helped JMU’s Speech Team rank among the top teams in the nation for the past four years.
The momentum doesn’t seem to be slowing. Lee Mayfield, faculty head of the speech team, attributes this success to the hard work and dedication of all team members top to bottom.
“The easiest thing to compare our team to is a track team where you’ve got people who run hurdles, who do high jump, who do long jump, and they’re all doing their own individual events,” explained Mayfield. “We do the same thing. It’s just that our individual events are prose interpretation or after-dinner speaking or something similar.”
Although students on the speech team have a wide range of educational backgrounds, majors ranging from math and physics to communications studies, they all have a passion for the Speech Team.
Selove is majoring in communication studies with an advocacy concentration as well as political science.
“I joined [JMU’s Speech Team] at the beginning of my freshman year, but I’d been in contact with them since my senior year of high school. I did speech team in high school, had a nice career, and just didn’t want to stop doing it. I like giving speeches and interpreting literature.” said Selove.
Despite having Asperger’s syndrome, a high functioning form of autism, Nathan Selove is a thriving member of the JMU Speech team.
“Asperger’s is a disorder that affects one’s ability to communicate with others, so I had the brilliant idea to become a communications major and join the Speech Team,” Selove says, smiling.
“I’m one of the weird people who feels comfortable speaking in front of 100 people, but I’ll mess up my pizza order and order cheese instead of what I actually want, because I’m too afraid to tell them what else I want on it,” Nathan says, explaining how social angst plays a role in speeches.
Nationwide, speech team students gather to speak for many different causes. At these events, Nathan is an advocate for both the speech team and all those with incredible skills that don’t fit the stereotypical mold.
Mayfield says that students on the speech team work in a great environment. He finds the team context, a setting in which they’re both driven to seek knowledge for their speech and driven to win, to be ideal for growing themselves.
Moreover, team members walk away with skills applicable to any future position. From working with long speeches on topics they truly care for to writing speeches in less than five minutes on topics they may not even know about, speech team members learn to express their thoughts both efficiently and eloquently.
“I’m like an empty cup and this team is filled with knowledge about communicating through a professional sense, so it can be a big advantage,” said Selove.
The speech team also gives the senior a place to reach his potential and succeed. With more than 11 events, the speech team has a lot to focus on, Mayfield says, and “Being a student with Asperger’s, Nathan is capable of focusing on pure content.”
Off the team, Nathan describes himself as the “most socially comfortable and socially awkward person you’ll ever meet.” But after a few minutes, the comfortable side definitely shined through, leaving the awkward side somewhere else.
It’s safe to say Nathan has helped improve team culture for the better and as a leader on the speech team, he will continue to make a difference and expand our ideas of education, personal advocacy, and success.