After nearly four years of rehearsing, performing and competing, Ardmore High School senior Jessica Cajina has been named a National Speech and Debate Association Academic All-American.
To qualify, students need to maintain a GPA of 3.7 or higher and earn at least 750 points through various speech and debate competitions. Cajina has earned 984 points as of last weekend and has a GPA of 4.05. She said she’s participated in over 60 competitions over the course of her high school career.
“Every drama tournament you go to, you get points depending on how you place,” Cajina said. “I started speech and debate my second semester when I was a freshman and I placed at state.”
Cajina said balancing the competitions with school and her other extracurricular activities can be a challenge.
“Sometimes it gets very overwhelming,” Cajina said. “I have dance and things at our local theater outside of school, on top of everything.”
Cajina said she’s learned from every speech and drama event and has made friends at other schools during the competitions.  
“It sounds cliche, but remember to be yourself,” Cajina said. “In tournaments, I try not to even think of it as a tournament. Just think of it as a performance. Instead of saying ‘I’ve got to get first place,’ I say ‘I’m going to perform as best as I can.’ Being competitive just isn’t as fun.”  
AHS speech and drama coach Brian Gunter said Cajina is the first student to rack up enough points to earn the title since he took over the role and revived the school’s NSDA chapter four years ago.
He described Cajina as a natural performer, who started with a background in dance and transitioned easily to theater.
“She already had a personality that was intense and enjoyable,” Gunter said. “Even if she hadn’t come to me as a drama student, if I’d seen her in the hall or had her in a class, within the first 30 seconds of interacting with her I would have known right away that she needed to do this.”
As a freshman, she learned two pieces in two weeks before her first competition.  
“And she’s been knocking people out since then,” Gunter said. “By the time she was a sophomore she was winning state championships. It was like a duck to water.”  
Cajina said she’s still trying to decide where to go to college, but that she wants to pursue musical theater and dance education.  
“There are some people who are just born to the stage, and there are people who are born of the stage,” Gunter said. “I think she is someone who was born of it. This is what she’s intended to do.”