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Veronica Speaks: From Forensics Member to Public Speaker

Veronica Williams Hall described her journey from COD student to staff and how she hopes to inspire empathetic communication through her career.
Mariyam Syed
Veronica Williams Hall’s presentation titled “Love Beyond Bias” at COD.

Through changing majors and competing in national Forensics Tournaments, COD alum and current Financial Aid staff member, Veronica Williams Hall, has gained unique experiences she hopes will inspire current students.

(Photo from Veronica Williams Hall)

Starting as a biology major on the pre-med track, Williams Hall described how her academic journey unexpectedly changed after a Speech 1100 general education course. There, she met her professor and speech team lead, Brandon Woods, who suggested she join the forensics team.

“Brandon approached me with an opportunity to join COD’s Forensics Team after I presented my first speech in the class,” Williams Hall recalled. “I wouldn’t take up his offer for weeks because I didn’t see myself as much of a public speaker,” Williams Hall recalled. “Brandon was persistent on encouraging me to come to a Wednesday evening team meeting.”

For the next two years, Williams Hall competed in COD’s Forensic Speech and Debate Team, which ultimately led her to major in Speech Communication at COD and Political Communication at Illinois State University. She said that after the next few years of competing in tournaments through her bachelor’s degree.

She professionally calls herself Veronica “Speaks” on her platforms, where she is a public speaker and life coach. Her journey has fostered her passion for providing resources and empathetic communication to people, which is especially important as an employee of the Financial Aid office.

“Students and parents contact the Financial Aid office for very personal issues. Here at College of DuPage, a foundational pillar of our school is Student Success,” she said. “Students can’t be successful in college if they’re struggling with paying for costs of living and college attendance.”

She described how sometimes stressful or heated conversations compel her to practice strategic and empathetic communication skills. She connected this back to the lessons learned on the Forensics Team.

“‘You learn more from the rounds you lose than the ones you win,’ is what my COD Debate coach Kacy Stevens told me throughout our time together. Learning how to communicate with people who have different upbringings can be a challenge,” Hall said. “Often, it can feel like losing a battle when you can’t get your point across, or you receive an unexpected response to your communication. I don’t back down from these communicative challenges. I reflect on the moments where an interaction did not go the way I expected it to and use them as a learning opportunity.” 

In Speech Team training, she was taught how successful communication depends on people’s mindsets and how people are all interdependent so hyper-individualized mindsets can be a setback.

“I don’t think that any of us can exist without each other. No matter how big someone’s role is or how small, quotes on small, someone’s role is. I don’t think we can operate without each other,” Williams Hall said. “Especially in America, we’re like, ‘I’m independent. I did this all by myself.’ We have the self-made billionaires. We have all this ideology about being independent, but it’s not real; it’s an illusion.”

Providing these resources and cultivating an acknowledgment of humanity’s interdependency is important to Williams Hall.

“Working in financial aid and talking with students about their financial situation can be a touchy topic,” Williams Hall said. “Sometimes, we’re helping students who are homeless, students who are survivors of horrifying circumstances, and students whose parents make too much but not enough to pay for college. With such different experiences, it is important to focus on the fact that our students want to succeed, and we are here to help them. Sometimes, that means putting aside how we want to respond in a way that the student feels supported.”

Empathetic communication in these difficult situations is important, and Williams Hall shared many sociological models about this with COD community members during her presentation called “Love Beyond Bias” for Diversity Month in April.

She used a series of interactive sociology models to demonstrate the importance of empathetic communication skills. The presentation started with her describing an acronym she created, BIRTH which stands for bias, interdependence, respect, transparency and hope. She explained that to overcome instinctual biases, people must learn to adopt the other four principles.

Diversity bingo sheet. (Mariyam Syed)

Participants in the audience were given a bingo sheet where each box had a common human characteristic written inside of it, such as “needs to eat food,” “experiences thoughts about others,” and “feels the need to be accepted.” The other sociological model Williams Hall presented was an emotion wheel, that contained a spectrum of different emotions with more specific adjectives. She described how knowing these mental states can help people communicate and display emotional competence.

“We may not walk the exact steps as a person, but we do experience the emotions in different experiences,” Williams Hall said. “When we walk around knowing that emotional wheel is in our head, as well as [knowing] others are like us, we can connect better.”

She explained how this is an important empathy-building tool in the workplace, specifically how during a COD faculty training event she described how it highlighted the importance of respect even when having differences with people.

“Once in COD, it was a training experience where faculty members and staff members go to learn how to represent COD as one whole community,” Williams Hall said. “I’m someone who believes I respect everybody, but when there are topics that I don’t agree with, I may not want to hear what that person has to say. Sitting in that one COD training event, it really challenged me to think, ‘Do I have the actions to back up what I say as a value?’ Even if we don’t agree with people, if we value respect as a humanity, we will listen to what others have to say regardless of whether or not we agree with it.”

Williams Hall encouraged audience members to speak about their reflections on these principles of empathy building, and everyone expressed a positive response. Williams Hall hopes her story from a student who switched majors to a celebrated graduate to a staff member inspired students on what future their journey may hold, especially as graduation season comes.

To find out more about Williams Hall’s public speaking, visit her website

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