TURLOCK — A Turlock teen accustomed to the stage brought home a first-place trophy, a scholarship and skills she'll use forever.
The newly-minted Future Business Leaders of America national champ credits the industry-linked club with helping ground her talent and spread her wings.
Ashlyn Inman's victory came in public speaking, using a 5-minute, 25-second speech she'd rewritten and recited hundreds of times since September for Pitman High English teachers, in front of Turlock Toastmasters, countless times for her parents and in the shower.
That's nearly 5½ minutes of speaking "all memorized, no cue cards" against the cream of California competitors, many of whom had daily classes instead of club meetings to help them prepare, she said.
A listing of the organization's California finalists shows students from 78 high schools made top ten lists, but more than half came from nine high schools. FFA members take ag classes, but can compete in a variety of events. Whether by class or by club, hands-on and academic contests showcase the powerful positives for teens of stepping up to compete.
Ashlyn, 17, is no stranger to the stage, having participated in more than 60 shows since her first acting gig at age six. But even with all her training, Ashlyn said she learned a lot by competing. From Toastmasters, she got tips like looking directly at the audience, not over their heads as she was taught for opera and theater productions. "You have to look people in the eye," she said.
From her officer duties she got marketing experience, trying to "rope in" more members. From FBLA trainings she got cues on marketing herself, for job interviews. "You learn you need to think not just about your strengths. You have to think about you weaknesses, too. Because that's part of it and 'I have no weaknesses,' is not an answer," Ashlyn said.
Shawne Arnold, Pitman's club advisor, said the club's business focus appeals to a broad spectrum of kids. "I think kids don't realize it, but they will be in a business some day. Even doctors need to know there's a financial side," she said. "They get so many life skills that will be with them forever, like leadership, networking, how to adjust when something new is thrown at you."
Ashlyn said that was the case for her. "It opened my eyes to the fact that business isn't just sitting in a cubicle typing away. It's interviewing. It's marketing," Ashlyn said. She even got a summer job, from a judge who heard her state contest presentation.
"It really does open up doors," she said.
Her winning speech came from the heart, using personal experiences to illustrate how the organization's internships and volunteer opportunities help students grow, Arnold said. Those experiences included volunteering at a neo-natal section of a hospital, watching a drug dependent newborn, and working on chapter projects.
Arnold said she knew the speech was good, but judges have wide discretion in the event and Inman's win was a nail-biter too the end. "It's kind-of subjective. At state she got a (perfect score) 100 from one judge, one in the mid-80s and one in the 60s. That's like a D-minus and an A-plus," she said.
Ashlyn did the work to win. She tweaked the wording and rehearsed the phrasing in spare moments between advanced placement and honors classes, drama rehearsals, voice lessons, three dance classes, serving as Pitman FBLA co-president and her part-time job giving voice lessons. Through it all she kept a 4.5 grade point average and traveled the country doing auditions to get into college music programs.
"Musical theater is my passion," said Ashlyn, now rehearsing for the role of Elle in "Legally Blonde" with Turlock Youth Performing Arts. She leaves two days after the play closes for college at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S. Carolina, one of the few schools with a bachelors in Fine Arts in musical theater.
Her father, Don Inman, said the experience "definitely increased her level of confidence." He and mom, Paola Inman, heard the speech in its various iterations for three years, starting with the Wizard of Oz themed speech she used the first year.
"How many times have we heard that speech," groaned Paola Inman, a proud grin tugging at the corners of her mouth. She told her daughter that first speech "was not business-y enough," but the first try at this year's version "was boring enough to win."
A Pitman P.E. teacher, Paola Inman helped chaperone Pitman FBLA events with Arnold and decided her daughter would benefit from its training. "This is such a great avenue for kids to just broaden their horizons," she said.
But it was a tough sell to her arts-focused teen. "I thought, 'Why would I do this? I'm not going into business,' " Ashlyn said.
Now, she wishes she had started competing as a freshman, saying that's where friends are made. "Some of the best memories I have of high school are with FBLA," she said.
The national organization calls itself the largest and oldest business student organization in the nation, with 215,000 high school members. Its first chapter opened in 1942.
Pitman High had 11 state finalists from an active group of about 100 members, Arnold said. Six finalists went on to compete in the roughly 9,000-student National Leadership Conference June 28-30. Three made it to the top 15 in Management Decision Making. Ashlyn was the only one to place. The Pitman High chapter also received a Gold Seal Chapter Award of Merit.
Delhi High was the only other high school in the region with a state finalist, Cristina Ceja, who did not advance to nationals.