Craig Anesu Chigadza ’21 came to the University of Indianapolis with dreams of walking onto the track team in his freshman year and eventually compete in the Olympics. Instead, he discovered his soaring talent for a different kind of competition.
Chigadza, who is studying psychology and international relations, recently became the first University of Indianapolis varsity student in nearly two decades to win a national speech and debate championship. The theme for his winning speech was “giving back.” In hindsight, it’s a topic he’s spent his entire life preparing for.
Chigadza grew up in the small town of Rusape, Zimbabwe. There were about 15 students in his primary school graduating class. He left home for the first time as a teenager, joining a student exchange program that took him to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, for one year.
“That’s when I discovered my passion for speaking, my passion for helping people, my passion for being a representative of the masses,” he recalled.
Before leaving Mexico, he started a nonprofit called “Spirited Change” to give back to the community that had been his temporary home. He’s since expanded that focus: Chigadza continues to run operations from his dorm room at UIndy today, donating a portion of his paycheck to support the educational needs of youth in his hometown.
Chigadza came to the United States in 2017 with preconceived notions about what his path to success would look like, believing his athletic abilities would be more beneficial than his passion for humanitarian work.
“In Zimbabwe, there’s a big misconception that being a college athlete in the United States is what gets you scholarships and opportunities,” he explained. “Athletics is considered the way to be successful in the States.”
He recognized broader possibilities shortly after arriving on campus, thanks to a chance encounter with Dr. Stephanie Wideman, director of the UIndy Forensics Speech and Debate Team, at a Welcome Week event. Eight days after joining the team he advanced to the final round of his first speech and debate competition, and he hasn’t looked back since.
“I quickly realized he’s really good at impromptu and extemporaneous speaking, which are limited preparation events,” Wideman said, adding that these events are the most applicable to everyday life. “People are often asked in professional settings to speak in public, but not everyone is comfortable doing that with limited preparation. These types of speech events encourage students to think on their feet and develop confidence.”
Chigadza has successfully competed at local, regional, statewide and national levels for the past two years, using persuasive speeches to shed light on humanitarian topics like child mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and eye care for people in Africa.
“I’ve taken a keen interest in being an advocate for my motherland of Africa and the issues that go on there,” Chigadza said. “It’s extremely important for me to be an advocate for children and people in disadvantaged positions because I could’ve easily found myself in a similar circumstance.”
Through his speech research, Chigadza connected with mentors like UIndy alumnus Faustin N’Tala ’01, founder and president of the Board of Directors for WAZA Alliance for Quality Education, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit enhancing the lives of children in the DRC. Chigadza hopes to take a service trip with WAZA to the DRC in 2020.
“It’s not just about being able to stand on a platform and deliver a speech. It’s about making sure I can follow up that speech with real action,” he said. “The biggest problems we have in society are being talked about, but not enough people are doing something. I want to change that mentality.”
Networking has been a powerful tool for Chigadza throughout his college career. In the weeks leading up to the 2019 National Speech Championship, for example, staff from the Professional Edge Center helped him practice for the interview competition he would end up winning.
Chigadza says his national title is “proof that you don’t have to come from a big school to achieve great things. UIndy is one of those places that enables students to chase their dreams.”
In addition to his involvement with the Speech and Debate Team, Chigadza is a student government class representative, a resident assistant, a presidential ambassador and part of the Paul Washington-Lacey Leadership Program at the University of Indianapolis.
This summer, he participated in a 10-week fellowship program with Learning Leaders, an organization in Shanghai, China, committed to improving the public speaking skills of middle school and high school students. Part of his national championship win, the opportunity includes fully funded travel and accommodations, a stipend, Mandarin lessons, and the chance to network with like-minded people from around the world.
“I would be lying if I said I ever thought speech would take me this far in life. It started as a ‘thing to do’ and now I’m realizing the opportunities and adventures it can open up,” said Chigadza.
Chigadza returns to campus this fall as the newly appointed president of the UIndy Speech and Debate team, ready to pursue the next big dream: attending Harvard Law School and continuing to make the world a better place, one person at a time.
“Yes, it’s beautiful to achieve accolades, but how am I going to give back? It’s the biggest question I continue to ask myself.”