Editor’s Note: at the end of April, members of the Switzerland County High School and Middle School BPA organization traveled to Los Angeles, California, for the national leadership conference.
Two members from Switzerland County earned national first place honors — a first in school history.
Today, we look at the journey of Switzerland County High School junior Aiden Furnish. Next week, we’ll look at Switzerland County Middle School student Casen Haskell.
Standing on the podium as one of the top 10 in the nation in extemporaneous speech for the Business Professionals of America organization, Switzerland County junior Aiden Furnish was happy that he was in the top 10; but was hoping that he’d be named as the third place finisher.
“When they announced third place and it wasn’t me, I was disappointed,” Aiden said, “But then I was surprised when they said that I had won.”
At that moment, Aiden Furnish became the first Switzerland County BPA member ever to earn first place overall at the National Leadership Conference. He wouldn’t be alone for last — a story for next week’s issue.
Aiden and other members of both the Switzerland County Middle School and High School BPA chapters qualified for the National Leadership Conference being held in Los Angeles, California at the end of April by virtue of their efforts at the State BPA competitions held earlier this year, A record number of local BPA students earned the right to compete at the Nationals, and the community responded by raising nearly $25,000 to help the students make the trip.
“I was in two different events,” Aiden said. “We are allowed to compete in two events, but only one can be an individual event. I was in a team event with our Economic Research team along with Carson Byrd, Cooper Todd, and Bradley Romans. We put together a presentation and put together a big research paper. Our topic that we were given was how relocation of professional sports teams can impact different cities, different states, markets, stuff like that. So we compiled our presentation and made the presentation there and we placed 10th. We got to be on the stage and we got our medals.”
On the individual side, Aiden competed in extemporaneous speech — a category that he hadn’t competed in since he was in the eighth grade as a part of the middle school BPA — and one that contained some hard feelings that he had to overcome.
As a middle schooler, Aiden said that he competed in that category, and in middle school the time limit is much longer than the three to five minutes that he was given in high school.
At the regionals, he was disqualified from moving on to the state competition because his presentation was about two seconds too short.
That caused him to vow not to compete in extemporaneous speech again, but before this year began, sponsor Wheeler assured him that he “was made for that particular event — and the rest is history.”
“For Regional, State, and Nationals you get 10 minutes in a room and you get a note card and a pencil, and you get presented a topic,” he said. “We would get two topics, actually, and we got to pick between the two. You then had 10 minutes to prepare some notes on your card about your topic, and then a judge would come in and escort us out of the room. We’d then go in front of the judges individually and give our speech.”
Aiden said that when he gave his speech, he was in front of two judges, and the judges had a rubric in front of them to grade the presentation on.
“My topic and my stance on the topic really had nothing to do with the actual scoring, but how I inflected my voice and used mannerisms and my actual order of the speech,” Aiden said. “I gave two speeches — a prelim speech and then the final.”
At the nationals, Aiden said that the preliminary round speech was a complete surprise because everyone got the same topic as opposed to being able to choose between two topics that were drawn out of a hat. With a large number of students — an average of three from each state plus other areas of the world — it was easier to pare the group down to the final 12 based on the same topic.
“We got ‘If social media should be used in job screenings’ as the topic,” Aiden said. “I gave a speech about that; and that was a little more on the fly. I wasn’t expecting that at all.”
Aiden said that there had only been one Switzerland County BPA member had ever gotten a call back to the final round (Calleigh Powell), so his expectations to move on were guarded.
“We had an app that BPA had created to get information to us, and I was on that and I checked it periodically, but then I realized that my group was going to be about the last one; so I ignored it for the day. I remember that I had this two- or three-scoop ice cream cone literally dripping down my hand and my phone started buzzing and it was Natalie Wheeler (Switzerland County High School co-BPA sponsor). I answered it and she told me that I had made call backs. It completely caught me off guard. I had no idea.”
Now one of 12 finalists, Aiden said that the format of the finals returned to how it had been at the regional and state levels, with each finalist being given a choice of topics for their final speech. He drew the 7:15 a.m. speech time (California time), so it was a quick turn around.
He said that traditionally he looks at both of his speech options one at a time as he makes his choice, but for the finals, things went a bit differently.
“They had this big tupperware basket with all of these tiny strips of paper,” Aiden recalled. “I drew out two slips, and usually I just hold the first one in my hand, in case it’s the one that I liked more, but I looked at the first topic and I couldn’t even tell you what it was, so just threw it back into the tub. I flipped over the second one, and I had to describe with taking a stance about the impact of Artificial Intelligence on the economy and the job force.”
Following the final presentation, Aiden said that he went with the Switzerland County group to Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park, hoping to get him mind off of the awards announcements later that day.
With the awards being announced in alphabetical order, Aiden knew that being on the podium with his Economic Research team would come just before him being on the podium for the Extemporaneous Speech.
Feeling really good about the work of the Economic Research Team, when that group did not finish in the top three, he resigned himself to thinking that his second trip to the podium would end up the same way.
But he was very wrong.
“I had hoped for third place, but when they announced that and it wasn’t me, I was figuring that was it,” Aiden said. “Then I got called as first place, and I got the plaque. Almost everyone before me had this contained reaction, and the proctor tapped me on the shoulder and said that I needed to show some emotion, because no one else had — so I put the plaque in the air.”
Aiden said that although he is very proud of his individual accomplishment, he said that he is also very proud of being a part of the Switzerland County chapter and all that the small group has accomplished on the national stage.
“It’s really something that Indiana had six national champions, and two of them came from here,” Aiden said. “It makes you really proud.”
Aiden is the son of Michael and Mickie Furnish of near East Enterprise.
Next Week: Switzerland County Middle School student Casen Haskell talks about his first place finish nationally.