Speaking from the Heart

Tom Pacheco, right, works with a client in the UMW Speaking Center.

Tom Pacheco, right, works with a client in the UMW Speaking Center. Photo by Robert Martin.

As a preteen at St. Ursula School, Tom Pacheco took the stage in front of his classmates, took a deep breath, and asked them for their vote for student government. After his very first speech, he was hooked on public speaking.

Years later, Pacheco ’14 found a way to share his knack for oration at the University of Mary Washington.

“Public speaking is something that people are extremely afraid of and I’ve never felt that, but it’s an incredible experience being able to help someone work through it,” said Pacheco, who worked at the UMW Speaking Center for four years. “I feel that I have these communications skills and I want to do something with them. I want to give back to the community in some way.”

He joined the debate team in high school and found a passion for speaking and learning. That passion led him to UMW.

At UMW, debate permeated every aspect of his life. A philosophy and political science double major, Pacheco traveled throughout the United States as part of the Debate Team and spent countless hours in preparation. His topic du jour was the war powers of the president, including sending prisoners to Guantanamo Bay, initiating drone strikes and bolstering cyber defense.

“I would wager that Tom has given more speeches and presentations than most any student finishing a Ph.D. program, and he has developed an expertise in public speaking and debate that rivals new college-level instructors in the field,” said Anand Rao, associate professor of communication and director of the speaking intensive program and Speaking Center.

In his four years on the Debate Team, Pacheco has racked up a long list of accomplishments – debating with Senator Tim Kaine, competing at a round robin tournament at Dartmouth, winning the American Debate Association National Championship with fellow alumnus Colin McElhinny and receiving the Julia Burke Award for Character and Excellence in American Debate Association Policy Debate.

However, the awards pale in comparison to helping a fellow student practice a speech about overcoming a stutter. Before that encounter last year, Pacheco took his gift for granted.public-speaking-tips

“The speaking center is right in the heart of what’s happening,” said Pacheco. “Being able to work with students who either don’t like public speaking or just need help is something that really makes me feel connected to the community.”

Pacheco will continue to give back through his two new jobs at Blake High School, a private school in Minnesota, and at the U.S. Naval Academy where he’ll coach debate. He’ll also return to UMW in February for a debate tournament.

“Looking back, I will always remember debate and the Speaking Center,” Pacheco said. “They go hand in hand and they really have been a meaningful experience. It’s really rewarding that you get to meet these students and you get to learn a little bit about different topics and you get to reflect on your own public speaking skills. It really helps you grow personally.”

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