Maranatha High School Alumni Use Speech & Debate Skills

As the Maranatha High School Speech and Debate program celebrates five years of competition, they asked some of their most successful alumni to reflect on the impact the program has made on their lives.

Joelle Cheng, Maranatha alumna from the Class of 2012, was the first in Maranatha’s history to win the first place, $5,000 prize, in the Pasadena Bar Association’s Speech Scholarship Tournament. Joelle was a hard-working leader on the Speech Team and excelled in Original Oratory. In thinking about her time on the Maranatha Speech & Debate Team, she shared, “My experience was one marked with unforgettable memories, tremendous growth, and learning that you reap what you sow in both the good and bad. As a sophomore at University of California, Berkeley, I can confidently say that my experience with this program could not have been more relevant or helpful to me now.”

MHS alumna Jessica Demasi ’13 competed in the same Pasadena Bar tournament as Joelle while at Maranatha, taking home the first and second place prizes during her junior and senior years. While at MHS, Jessica also participated in the American Legion Auxiliary Girls’ State Program, served as a chaplain, and was the lead in Anything Goes. A fellow Golden Bear at U.C. Berkeley, Jessica shared, “Being a part of the Speech & Debate Team at MHS was crucial in fine tuning my communication skills. The team equipped me with the tools necessary to articulate my thoughts in a clear and intelligent way, a skill that has proved useful not only in the classroom, but in interacting with professors and future employers on campus.”

A 2011 grad, Nick Popham, was a multi-talented student at Maranatha, successfully balancing speech competition, varsity sports, and lead performances in the school plays. During his time at California State University, Northridge, Nick has devoted himself fully to the Speech & Debate Team, bringing home first and second place prizes in collegiate tournaments for his presentations in Dramatic Interpretation. Nick came back to Maranatha this fall to help coach the team, and has been a true inspiration for their current competitors. Nick shared that he has “enjoyed returning to Maranatha as Mr. Mesisca’s assistant this year, helping him inspire current students to pursue excellence in Speech and Debate.” Nick is looking forward to a career in sports broadcasting after his time at C.S.U. Northridge.

The Speech & Debate program at Maranatha has experienced success in large part due to the students’ hard work, talent, and desire to succeed. As founding member Selina Schweitzer ’11 states, members have learned through the team “how to think critically, communicate effectively, create logically sound arguments, and most importantly, to be confident.”

The successes of Maranatha’s alumni inspire the current team as they continue to achieve great things in competition. In debate, seniors Shehan Wijesinghe and Nick Craft have earned honors in the Fall and Spring Southern Californian Debate League Tournaments. In the Fall Varsity Speech tournament at Arroyo High School, the Maranatha team brought home the first place trophy in the Emerging Schools Division. The future of the team looks bright as freshman Matthew Harrington and Junior Sage Polonco advanced to the finals of the Fall Varsity Debate only to come up short against a nationally-ranked competitor. Maranatha also looks to defend its first place title at the annual Pasadena Bar Association Speech Scholarship Tournament at Pasadena City College on Saturday, March 29. The tournament begins at 9:00 a.m.  for anyone interested in observing Maranatha’s competitive Speech program.

Maranatha High School, 169 S. St. John Avenue, Pasadena, (626) 817-4000 or visit

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