When Gabrielle Mintz delivered her valedictorian speech for New Riegel High School's class of 2009 commencement ceremony, she felt like she was going to pass out. Her knees shook, and she gripped the sides of the podium.
"I read right off my paper; I didn't memorize it," she said.
Mintz hated public speaking in high school, but said when she took a communication class at Heidelberg University, she started to get more confident.
Mintz, now a sophomore at Heidelberg studying biology, placed first in the persuasive category when she competed at the Pi Kappa Delta national forensics tournament at Mount Hood Community College in the state of Oregon.
She said she wasn't expecting to place first and was shocked when she placed in the competition. She said she participated in the contest with the intention of it being a learning experience.
"I wasn't looking at it as a competition. ... I didn't expect (to win) at all," she said.
The second-place finisher was from North Dakota State University, and the third-place finisher was from Southwest Baptist University, according to Pi Kappa Delta's website.
Mintz competed in the persuasive and informative categories, where speeches are supposed to be eight- to 10- minutes long and be memorized. She said there were more than 100 speakers in each event.
"You do each of these speeches three times," she said.
She said her persuasive speech, which was about raising awareness about elder abuse, underwent a lot of revamping. In the U.S., 8 million baby boomers are at the prime age for abuse, she said.
Mintz, a member of Heidelberg's speech team, said her speech explains the four main types of elder abuse, which are physical, emotional and financial abuse and neglect or abandonment, and then moves to causes and solutions. The speech creates an emotional connection to a one's own grandparents, she said.
For her informative speech, Mintz explained HeLa cells, which were involved in the development of the polio vaccine in the 1950s.
"They're cervical cancer cells that came from Henrietta Lacks," she said.
Mintz said Lacks had one of the most severe cancer cases medical personnel at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine ever had seen, and the cancer killed her quickly.
Doctors did a biopsy on her cervix and took four pieces of the
"They're immortal, which means they can exist outside the body for an indefinite amount of time. ... (HeLa cells) can keep dividing without cease," she said.
Mintz's speech also discussed the ethics of using Lack's cells and other other cells in medicine development.