‘There’s No Way to Quantify How Empire Has Impacted My Life’
Three-time Empire participant shares his Empire story.
I’m sure we’ve all done it before–signed-up for a school trip because you’re more excited to get out of class than anything else. (I know I’m not the only one!) For me, it was when, back in 2016, the St. Charles North mock trial team was attending Empire New York, and I decided to join the team as a witness. I figured, what could be so bad about checking out New York City, testifying in a federal courthouse, and dressing up as a felon in an orange jumpsuit?
Three years and three Empire competitions later, what started as a way to miss school turned out to be one of the most defining experiences of my high school career. I broke out of my comfort zone, sharpened my advocacy skills, met new friends, and connected with a college that I’ll be attending next year, all because of my experiences at Empire. I’ve also gained invaluable work experience through my internship with the organization, a role which I am expanding upon after graduation.
There’s really no way to quantify how Empire has impacted my life. There are too many memories and anecdotes from each cruise, ceremony, and trial to mention in a single article.
In this piece, I’ll share with you highlights from my experience with Empire Mock Trial. If you’re a former Empire participant, I’m sure this will all sound familiar to you. But if you’re considering attending Empire, I hope this gives you insight into why Empire would be a great opportunity for your team.
During my high school career, I have been fortunate enough to compete in countless regional tournaments, four state competitions, and two National High School Mock Trial Championships, in addition to my experiences at Empire. While many tournaments can feel surprisingly similar to each other, what really differentiates Empire from any other mock trial tournament is that every participant is so genuinely kind. I know that sounds weird to say, but I’ll tell you what I mean.
The organization’s emphasis on treating your peers with respect—viewing them as people, not just competitors—is not only decreed by the tournament organizers, but is represented by each individual I came across at the competition. One of the reasons our school has continued to go back to Empire was because there is a fundamental emphasis on balancing competition with sportsmanship. At many competitions, the environment is cutthroat, with every team seeing their competitors as some sort of enemy to be conquered or obstacle to be destroyed. But at Empire, that environment isn’t just absent—it’s openly challenged.
So many moments come to my mind, both in and out of the courtroom, that demonstrate this.
I remember being at the Empire Exchange during the Opening Ceremony–everywhere I turned, I found fellow students who were just as excited to meet me and share their mock trial story as I was to meet them and share mine. I can remember several times during the competition when I had no idea which room I was supposed to be in, but there was always a Blue Shirt (an Empire volunteer) willing to show me the way. Just walking around the competition hotel, I encountered so many friendly teams representing different countries and continents all over the world.
I had that same experience in the courtroom, too.
In 2017, I vividly recall finishing an intense third round against the amazing mock trialers from East Islip High School. Throughout the round, we had viciously torn each others’ cases apart by incorporating countless demonstratives, tear-jerking character witnesses, and ample repetition of witty case themes and catch-phrases.
Yet only minutes after the trial was over, we began talking with the team we had just competed against, cracking jokes and learning about everyone’s lives beyond mock trial. It was as if everyone in the room had forgotten that we were at an international mock trial tournament that we wanted to win, treating each other not as competitors during a crucial round, but rather as best friends who just so happen to be on their school’s quirky law team.
At Empire, these situations are the norm rather than the exception. East Islip was a great example, but I have had amazing interactions with countless other Empire schools–Owasso (OH), Springwood (UK), Holy Rosary (IRE), Queen Elizabeth (UK), and Wyoming Seminary (PA), to name a few.
It is hard for me to believe that my days competing at Empire are over. But I am excited to share that in the fall of 2020, I will be attending Furman University, a small liberal arts college in Greenville, South Carolina. I had never heard of Furman before attending Empire and meeting Dr. Halva-Neubauer from their mock trial program. It was at Empire that I learned about the quality of both the school’s mock trial program and its rigorous liberal arts curriculum. I flew to Furman a few months ago to tour the campus and I was hooked! I cannot wait to get started there after my gap year, during which I plan on volunteering with several organizations (including Empire!).
As I reflect on my Empire experience, what I’ve come to realize is that how we placed at the competition is just temporary; fleeting, even. Our third place finish in 2016 was enjoyable to be a part of, but it is the Empire Family–this community that I am now a part of–that is timeless. That sense of community will always be with me. Whether it’s an attorney you faced off with in court, a representative from a tournament sponsor, that one witness that made you die of laughter during the trial, Irish students dominating the cruise’s dance floor, or even the amazing Blue Shirts, those are the experiences I will remember.
Over the past three years, Empire has helped me grow as an actor, advocate, speaker, and as a human being. If you’ve attended Empire before, I’m sure you can say the same. If you’re thinking about attending Empire, I’ll leave you with this: when the competition is over, when you get on your flight and start scrolling through all the pictures you took, contacting all the people you met, and reminiscing of all the memories you made, you’ll realize that Empire isn’t just a mock trial tournament.
Empire is, in all respects, a mock trial experience.
If you would like to learn more about Empire, including how your school can attend this fall, please visit our website: empiremocktrial.org/apply
Our competitions will take place in Atlanta (September 20-23), New York (October 11-14), and San Francisco (November 1-4).
The deadline to apply for any 2019 competition is June 21.