On the subterranean level of the C building, beneath the halls where sound of students reverb, in a small, quiet room between an overlooked trophy case and a wall-turned-photo collage sits Shannon Yong, biology major.
“This is the squad room.”
Yong is not what most people picture when they imagine a college speech and debate member. Composed, reserved, and confident in a field normally reserved for extroverts, Yong explains the often confusing name of her passion.
“Kind of like CSI,” she began. “It’s called forensics because we want to reveal truth through our pieces.”
Truth can be hard to come by, and looks can be deceiving. This is exactly the case with Yong, who despite celebrating her one-year anniversary in debate by competing in this weekend’s warm-up tournament, is only 17 years old.
At 15 she took the California High School equivalency exam after one year in high school.
“I wanted to try something different,” she said. “I took the test just to see if I would pass and three weeks later I was at PCC.”
It may be that Yong is gifted, but that doesn’t mean the transition straight from high school freshman to freshman in college was easy.
“Some people automatically assumed I’m a certain way,” Yong said. “[They think] I’m ridiculously smart, or I’m immature because I’m younger.”
The biggest challenge for Yong was social, not academic. Most college students already come into school with a support group of friends, or have at least practiced the sometimes awkward struggles of socializing with peers in high school. Shannon had to learn on the fly.
“It was harder to maintain long term friends,” Yong admitted. “You meet [friends] in one class and then you never see them again.”
That is not a problem for her now, sitting in the squad room next to fellow competitors Danny Math and Matthew Shoop, who punctuate the interview with occasional ribbings.
“She doesn’t know pop culture!” Shoop insists, before going on an extended riff about “Star Wars.”
The PCC Forensics team has historically done very well. Last year during the national Phi Ro Pi tournament the team was surprised when they didn’t hear their names called during award presentations for the small school category, despite their high scores. They had mistakenly entered the much tougher midsize school category by sending one too many participants, but still won second place in the group.
Yong’s best outing came during a state competition where she won bronze for a five minute impromptu speech. An impressive accomplishment for anyone, but especially for Shannon, who previously gave an impromptu speech on the world of Disney when her topic was a picture of a star. Unfortunately, at the time Yong did not recognize it was the Death Star.
That awkward phase seems to be over for Yong now as she hits her stride in college, for which she credits her forensics family.
“Most of the people are really friendly and just looking to have a good time, while competing, of course,” Yong said of the forensics culture.
“Individually, I’m not as outspoken as the rest of the team,” she said. “I’m actually pretty shy by myself, but the team does make me talk a lot more and joke around with them.”
Yong’s immersion into the forensics family was most evident looking at her favorite picture on the photo collage wall. In it, she embraces former coach Joshua Fleming during the first night of the national competition opening banquet.
“He was an amazing coach who taught me everything,” she said. Yong only learned about her invitation to nationals the day after coming back from another tournament. Still recuperating at home, she was inundated by a flurry of texts, congratulations, and well-wishes from her teammates letting her know she made it.
“It was a really big deal,” Yong beamed.
Now as she hits her stride, ready to transfer from PCC, she can reflect on how much she has changed from her first tournament one year ago.
“I’m pretty different,” she said. “I stopped wearing glasses, I’m more outgoing, more open and like to talk to more people. I’m active in clubs.”
Yong is the president of the Critical Theory Club, which analyzes social phenomena, and the vice president of Caduceus, a club for those interested in health professions.
“Through forensics I’ve grown up a lot,” she continued. “To a lot of people it’s kind of strange, but to the people who are in it, it means a lot to us.”
Recently, Yong was selected to showcase her informative speaking skills for new and interested forensic students in an annual seminar at Orange Coast College, known as Demo Day.
“She was chosen because Shawn [the Co-Director of Forensics running the seminar] requested her,” Math announced. “Most of her events broke [into finals] and her topic is really innovative. She’s a rising star.”
According to a release by Director of Forensics, Cindy Phu, Yong showcased transplant technologies that keep vital organs, such as hearts, working outside the human body.
Through the long hours at competitions, the gentle needling from her teammates, and even the camaraderie from competitors, Yong has managed to cultivate a family on campus, even taking a “family portrait.” She was, of course, the forensic family’s protected daughter.
“I’m just glad they put up with me.”