Jeremiah Cox is an incredible kid. Just ask his Chaska High School speech coach Andrew Brady, who once was in the extracurricular activity when he was a Hawk.
“I’ve seen a lot of kids in the speech circuit. I’ve never seen someone like Jeremiah,” Brady said.
Cox was named the National Speech and Debate Association District Student of the Year, the first time this has been earned by a Chaska student. He was named all-conference in three speech categories this year as well, also a first at Chaska.
Speech and debate students earn NSDA points from competition and when you accumulate Cox’s numbers from over the years, he has risen to the highest level possible — Premier Distinction — again, something never achieved by a Chaska High School student in the past.
“His work ethic is unparalleled. Even after winning a tournament, Jeremiah will immediately start pouring over the feedback to find ways to improve. I’m consistently amazed by his willingness to tinker and experiment with his writing and performance in search of improvement,” Brady said.
Cox swore he wouldn’t join the speech team. His older brother, Ben, was a state champion in storytelling and always did well at the regional level.
Yet there he was freshman year, on the team, and it was evident from that point he was going to be special.
“Everyone on the team knows that they’re never going to outwork him, but Jeremiah never uses that fact to deliberately shame other people or make them feel inadequate. He just does his thing, and everyone else naturally aspires to follow his lead,” said Brady, his coach for all four years. “He’s singularly focused on doing better today than he did yesterday, and that mentality rubs off on people. Our entire team has skyrocketed up in competitiveness over the last few years, and that’s in no small part due to Jeremiah’s contributions.”
For Cox, it is about using the platform for doing good.
“It was wonderful to have the opportunity to still compete (during the COVID-19 pandemic). To be able to speak and still be heard. To have the ability and resources to be able to research my topic, and to get my message out with my speech, I’m really happy I had that chance,” Cox said.
When COVID-19 shut down extra-curricular activities, it was feared state, regional and national competitions may be canceled for 2020. NSDA found a way, moving everything virtual.
Cox, who placed second and third in several different national online tournaments, earned first in the Minnesota Speech Coaches Association tournament in informative speaking.
It was Cox’s junior year of high school, a national tournament at Harvard University, where he discovered his true potential, reaching the semifinals.
The next year was spent like this: write a draft, critique, redraft, critique, redraft, repeat. Cox figures he clocked nearly 700 hours of work his senior year just on the one category, informative, that he performed for all national tournaments. Additionally, he competed in drama and original oratory with several more hours of work in each of those.
“All the work I put in, I really think it taught me good life lessons. How to work for something. How if you work really hard, you can achieve what you want,” Cox said.
Over the years Cox has chosen topics that impacted people. The unintended negative consequences of global charity; our internalized belief that the “Third World” needs to be saved; and how we use other people as props in our own story.
This year it was structured water. That is water with a structure that’s been altered to form a hexagonal cluster. This cluster of water molecules is believed to share similarities with water that hasn’t been polluted or contaminated by human processes.
Cox, which learned of the topic from his father, said “it could be huge” toward restoring soil and leaving less of a carbon footprint.
“Those are some big questions for a high schooler — or anyone, for that matter — and he genuinely cares about finding an answer. He’s never afraid to be vulnerable in his speeches and admit his own shortcomings on a particular topic, which is an unbelievably admirable thing. His sense of self always takes a back seat to the genuine pursuit of solutions to some huge systemic problems,” Brady said.
Even as the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone out of their norm, Cox never gave up, continuing to work. He said it was a pleasant “distraction” from everything going on.
His perseverance paid off as he and teammate Aravis Pennucci were selected to compete at nationals. Another apparent first, with two Chaska speech members in the NSDA tournament.
One of 262 competitors in the informative speaking category last month, Cox reached the top 60 while being named the Southern Minnesota NSDA Student of the Year during opening ceremonies. And then the top 30. Then into the semifinals and top 14. And finally the finals, six competitors remaining.
“My goal all along was to get into the final round at nationals, but I’d be lying if I didn’t think I could win it all. I really thought I had a good chance,” Cox said.
In the end, Cox placed fourth, the highest finishing speech member in Chaska High School history. Chanhassen’s William Maus, once a classmate at Chaska Middle School East, claimed the championship.
“There were three of us from Minnesota in the finals. I thought that was so close. When we would travel to competitions, Jeremiah always traveled with us. I just love him so much. He’s such a great competitor,” Maus said, of Cox.
“The official script that he submitted for the national tournament was draft No. 75. No, that’s not a typo,” Brady said. “I lost track of the number of times in practice that I’d say something like ‘We should think about changing this part before the next tournament’ and he’d say ‘Already did.’”
Helping ease the pain of not winning was the fact that Cox has been given a full-ride scholarship to Hastings College in Nebraska where he will be continuing to compete in speech and pursuing a degree in communications.
Cox said the college’s team members were counselors at a speech camp and they were “great recruiters.”
“Logistics sense, they are very similar (between high school and college speech). The topics vary. They’re a bit meatier. Very little fluff, no humor. High school speech is very entertainment based,” Cox said.
His goal is to someday become a news anchor at a major national news outlet.
One thing is for sure, the impact he leaves at Chaska High School, isn’t lost with coaches and teammates.
“He’s not just in this for himself. Jeremiah is always looking for ways to lift up his teammates. He spent dozens of hours this year working with other students to help them improve, and I overheard many kids raving about how helpful he was,” Brady said.
“As a coach, there’s a particular point of pride for me when any of my seniors give the exact same feedback to a younger student that I would have given them. That happened so many times with Jeremiah. I’d review another student’s speech and start writing a comment on something — only to discover that Jeremiah had mentioned the exact same thing. That’s a really satisfying thing to watch.”