If you think about it, campaigning for public office bears a striking resemblance to competing at a forensics tournament. The days are long, you meet tons of people, you make plenty of speeches, and you're energized by a mix of passion, ambition, and nerves. And in the end, if you've been able to persuade the people listening to your message, you come out on top.
Hopefully the parallels prove useful for William Igbokwe. At twenty-three, Igbokwe is making waves as one of three candidates campaigning for mayor in Jacksonville, Texas. Described as "candid, thoughtful, and well-spoken," the University of Texas graduate isn't letting the age gap intimidate him. (Igbokwe is twenty to fifty years younger than the other candidates.) With the election on May 10th, we were fortunate to get a little bit of time to learn how forensics has helped Igbokwe on the path to public office.
Did you compete in high school forensics? I competed for Jacksonville High school on the UIL circuit in Texas. For four years, I was the only person on my forensics team. I competed in Extemporaneous Speaking and Prose Interpretation.
What skills did you learn in forensics that have helped you on the campaign trail? There are an assortment of skills that I've acquired through forensics that have assisted me tremendously on the campaign trail. The two that have been my greatest ally is the ability to speak extemporaneously and the ability to keep composure during high pressure situations. Particularly, the ability to speak extemporaneously has been especially invaluable. While on the campaign trail, I've been interviewed numerous times by media without any prior knowledge as to what these news outlets would be asking specifically (thanks, media!). Additionally, I also participated in a Mayoral debate where, again, there was no way to know what was going to be asked of me specifically, ahead of time. However, rather than trying to prep out answers to possible questions, I relied upon my experience in "speaking off the cuff", forensics style, to guide me to a solid performance. The ability to slow down your thoughts, control your fluency, alter syntax, and select powerful verbiage to enhance whatever point you're trying to get across to an audience is an art form I've been working to improve for over a decade. Fortunately, having been just one year out of college forensics, I haven't accumulated too much rust on that very important skill set.
What inspired you to run for Mayor? I've always been interested in public policy and the chance to serve as a public official. That is an interest that I will likely never outgrow. The inspiration to run for Mayor, however, derived from a conversation I had with a friend (also a forensics alumnus, also on the campaign team) about the impact young people can have on their communities. Eventually, that conversation evolved into a possible Mayoral bid for my hometown.-- I'm from a town with a population of roughly 20,000 people. In the last Mayoral election, less than two percent of the entire population (409 people) participated in the voting process. As a Political Communication major with the prospect of returning home a year before election season to launch a campaign, I saw an opportunity to help stir within my community a passion for civic engagement or, at the very least, an opportunity to help my community better understand its importance. I jumped at the opportunity.
If elected, what would be your goals? If elected, I have four primary goals for Jacksonville, Texas. 1. Enhance the city's aesthetics, 2. Revitalize the community's job prospects, 3. Promote education in Jacksonville to the extent that the community evolves into a pillar of educational success and overachievement in the greater East Texas community, and 4. Lay the foundation for what will be a strong relationship between city government and engaged citizens for years to come. My perspective on community issue can be accessed in greater detail via my campaign website, www.IgbokweforJacksonville.co
Do you have any advice for forensicators interested in public service? For forensicators who dream of public office, I have two pieces of advice. 1. Understand that every performance, regardless of genre, that you construct and deliver in this activity will in some way assist you in developing the core skills you'll need to succeed as a public official; composure, articulateness, the ability to address an audience, speaking extemporaneously, et cetera. 2. You must always stay the course. Seeking public office, especially if you are young and baby-faced, can be grueling and you will not be without your share of detractors. But seeking public office is a lot like doing well at tournament: You're often in a suit, you likely have a message, you certainly have an audience, and if you can convince enough of the right people that your message is the most powerful, the end result will work itself out.
And to anyone in forensics pursing whatever it is that makes them happy, you, as well, must always stay the course. People are entitled to their opinion(s) about whatever you're doing or pursuing. However you, too, are entitled to an opinion about your pursuit of happiness.
Fortunately, only one of those opinions matter.