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COOS BAY — If there was a contest for "What did you do this summer?" back-to-school essays, Anya Caro would probably win.

The Marshfield High senior made her weeks off school count this summer, participating in three camps and ending that whirlwind with a trip to Washington, D.C. — and a chance to meet President Barack Obama.

That journey started in June at Girls State at Willamette University, a camp focused on educating young women on government and politics. The girls form a "state government," and people run for office. Caro was inspired to try a run at Girls Nation, and by the end of the intensive process, the field had narrowed from 120 to four.

"I stayed up until 4 a.m. writing a bill," Caro said of the night before her final presentation. "I wrote my own bill on banning defensive urban architecture. I wrote a speech with it, and I never do prepared speeches, so I was really excited."

She was the last of the four to speak, but ditched the prepared speech right before she went up, instead pulling on her forensics skills to wow the crowd.

The next day, Caro found out that she and Portland's Emily Elott had been voted Girls Nation senators.

"It was a phenomenal experience," Caro said of her trip to D.C., where the girls visited the monuments, Capitol Hill, met legislators and, of course, Obama. "I actually got to sit in on one of their cabinet meetings — like their Senate debates, a mini version — and I saw him (U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.) get into a fallacy war and it was so fun for me, because it's like what I do in debate. It was weird seeing things I do for fun as an actual career."

Caro's sights have been set on college since a young age. After graduating, she wants to go to the University of Oregon to study journalism and public relations, with a minor in political science.

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"College has always been on my mind ... not just because my parents want me to, but I naturally like learning things, knowing new things, doing new things, constantly trying to be smarter than everybody else," she said.

She's channeled that drive and confidence into forensics (speech and debate) over the last year at Marshfield. She participates in public forum debate (around 40 minutes of two teams going back and forth, arguing a topic or current event), and is gaining more experience in extemporaneous speaking (extemp) — a seven-minute speech with only 30 seconds preparation.

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"You file all year long (for extemp), so I'm constantly reading New York Times and Brookings and The Economist, gathering research and filing and saving," she said. "I'm actually teaching myself how to do extemp since they don't teach it here, because nobody else does it."

She jumped into debate last year, and immediately fell in love.

"I liked how I could be competitive academically, because I'm not a sports person," she said.

At national qualifiers last spring, Caro qualified as second alternate with her partner in public forum debate.

"Even though we didn't go to nationals, I thought for my first year, with ... 20 to 25 debate rounds under my belt, I made it that far," she said. "So this year, the goal is nationals."

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Reporter Chelsea Davis can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 239, or by email at chelsea.davis@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @ChelseaLeeDavis.

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