State speech champ breaks norm at contest

Glenbrook North senior Erin Rosenfeld could be the first deaf and hard-of-hearing student to win a state Speech Team title. (We’re still researching state records on that). She’s also the first one in 22 years at GBN to win a state speech title. But it’s not those accomplishments that set her apart.

Erin, who was born profoundly hard-of-hearing took on an even bigger challenge in the state contest. She signed in American Sign Language (ASL) and concurrently voiced her speech, a feat that is tremendously challenging.

“Neurologically, for the brain it’s very difficult to sign and speak simultaneously,” said Speech Team Coach and social studies teacher Sarah Ilie. It’s like speaking two languages at once, she said. 

Erin used both sign language and spoken English, known as “sim com” in her championship event, Oratorical Declamation, at the IHSA Speech State Tournament. This broke with the traditional type of speech seen at state competitions. 

Erin, who uses American Sign Language, lip reads and voices English, could have requested an interpreter as an accommodation under the ISHA rules. But she took on the dual challenge and according to Ilie, was a champion in both. “She was equally as impressive in both; she maintained eye contact, had flawless expressions and enunciation. She had so much grace, eloquence and confidence.”

Erin had to work doubly hard practicing for tournaments. She won First Place in both regionals and sectionals, which qualified her for the state tournament in Oratorical Declamation.

She had to memorize the speech in two languages while also practicing things like intonation, inflection and body language. She also had to work on enunciation and volume, both of which are challenges for the deaf and hard of hearing. Erin met with Ilie almost daily to practice. “She has a lot of courage and grit and tries to participate in everything and she does it with such openness and eagerness,” said Ilie. 

Erin has competed in Speech Team since a freshman but this is the first time that she used sim-com in a competition. 

In the category of Oratorical Declamation, the speaker takes a pre-existing Ted Talk and presents it. Erin selected a speech titled “The Enchanting Music of Sign Language” by Christine Sun Kim. Christine also is deaf and she signed her Ted Talk while her interpreter voiced it. 

“Doing this speech in both ASL and English just felt right,” said Erin, who noted that it can be understood by both the deaf and the hearing audience, she said.

The message of the speech is one that Erin believes in. The speech shows that the deaf community can experience the beauty of music and invites the audience to open their eyes and ears and participate in the rich treasure of visual language. 

Ilie said American Sign Language is its own form of art and that sound is not just an auditory experience but a visual experience as well. 

Erin said she felt it was important to be a role model to the deaf community. 

“Growing up hard of hearing, I didn’t have a role model to look up to in the media, books, or elsewhere,” she said.

Erin joined Speech Team as a freshman. It wasn’t a huge leap for her since she’s been involved in theatre most of her life. “Speech Team has allowed me to become a better public speaker, a better teammate, and has increased my confidence and belief in myself,” she said. 

Erin has performed in GBN and Northbrook Park District plays as well as performed in England and Chicago’s Underscore Theatre.

She plans to attend Boston’s Northeastern University and double major in ASL and psychology and also continue her theater performances.

Erin has earned her stripes as a role model for the deaf and hard of hearing. “Hopefully I can be a person they can identify with,” she said. 

State speech champ breaks norm at contest