Becca Human

Becca Human, a senior english and political science major who recently was accepted into Harvard Law School, poses for a portrait outside the Nebraska Union on Tuesday, April 16, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

It was a late December day when Becca Human was cat-sitting at her friend’s apartment and got a phone call from an unidentified Boston number.

When she picked up the phone, she heard 13 words that changed her life forever: “We want to welcome you to the Harvard Law School class of 2022.”

“I must’ve said ‘Oh my gosh, thank you!’ about a million times,” the senior English and political science double major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said.

Human said her involvement in the UNL speech and debate team, as well as her political science classes, influenced her plans to pursue public interest law.

“In persuasive speech, you talk about a problem, but one-third of your speech has to be, ‘How do we fix it?” she said. ”It forces you to think about not only that the problem exists, but how we can change it.”

Human said her high school’s lack of a debate team forced her to gravitate toward speech. She said she enjoyed it because she likes public speaking and making arguments.

Human said she didn’t start competing in extemporaneous speech until her freshman year of college and didn’t think she was capable of doing it. She said it was difficult at first, but she gradually improved.

”You start picking up the tricks and the things that work for you, and that makes it easier,” she said.

Human’s practicing eventually lead her to win the national championship in extemporaneous speech, a public speaking event where the speaker gets 30 minutes to prepare and research a current events topic, at the 2019 American Forensic Association National Individual Events Tournament in early April.

Human said extemporaneous speaking influenced her decision to pursue law. She said she applied to top-tier law schools, like Yale’s and Georgetown’s programs, but had her heart set on Harvard because she was born in Boston and feels the school is exceptional.

“Something about it feels full circle,” she said. “I want to go to law school and feel like I’m going to the best place I can possibly be, and that is Harvard for me.”

Aaron Duncan, a UNL communications professor and the UNL speech and debate program director, said Human’s accomplishments aren’t surprising.

“She combines hard work with intelligence, tenacity and resilience,” he said in an email. “When you combine those qualities, there are no limits.”

Human said if it wasn’t for Duncan and the other coaches pushing her to do extemporaneous speech, she wouldn’t have been very exposed to social issues and pursued public interest law.

“I think this degree will get me into a position where I can actively help people and take something to court, like employment discrimination, and actually make a difference in people's lives,” she said.

Human said she sees law as an outlet for pushing social change.

“It’s not perfect, but it’s a way you can actually fight specific injustices and specific acts of discrimination against marginalized people,” she said.

Human said she feels speech is about more than winning and losing.

”At the end of the day, the trophy is not what is important to me,” she said. “It’s been my whole experience [in speech] and how it’s shaped me and made me a better person.”