Centralia College student from Onalaska wins Statewide Inspirational Speech Championship sharing mother’s story of ‘Unbreakable Spirit’


When it comes to perseverance over life's most difficult challenges, Erika Preslicka has shown a lot, from growing up deaf and enduring multiple surgeries to regain her hearing as a child to multiple bouts with cancer, just to name a couple. 

Despite the challenges, she is now living her dream of teaching music to middle school and high school students.

It was for these reasons her daughter, Centralia College graduate Jasmine Preslicka, of Onalaska, chose to make Erika the subject of her speech titled “Unbreakable Spirit” at the fourth annual Statewide Inspirational Speech Championship on July 22. 

The 19-year-old won the competition for her speech, beating out four other competitors who, with Jasmine, were the top five remaining public speakers from a field that started out with competitors from 34 community colleges across Washington. Before the competition, Jasmine was ranked the third among all competitors. 

The other competitors were the No. 5-ranked speaker, Shawnee Munns, from Spokane Community College; the No. 4-ranked speaker, Kimm Moore, of Bellevue College; the No. 2-ranked speaker, Kayanne McNeill, of Green River College; and the No. 1-ranked speaker, Solstice Black, of Whatcom Community College. 

While her speech won, Jasmine’s favorite speech from the competition was Black’s, because of the way she told the story, she said. Black finished in second place.

Jasmine’s former public speaking instructor, Centralia College Communication Studies Program Lead Jeff McQuarrie, is also the director of the competition and has organized it since its inception. He’s originally from Westport and has been teaching at Centralia College for 13 years. 

Both Jasmine and McQuarrie sat down with The Chronicle this week to talk about the experience. According to McQuarrie, Jasmine’s victory is only the fifth statewide championship win Centralia College has earned for sports or academic-related competitions. 

He said the others were the school’s baseball team winning the 1965 championship, the tennis team winning the 1969 championship, a debate team championship also sometime in the 1960s and former student Tony Messineo winning the Statewide Inspirational Speech Championship in 2021. 

A Centralia College student did win the first Statewide Inspirational Speech Championship, but McQuarrie doesn’t count that one. 

“2020 was the first year we did it, but all the colleges backed out because of COVID, and so it was only Centralia College students competing, so technically I can’t really claim that we won it that year, because we couldn’t have lost it,”  McQuarrie said. 

While she was able to tell her mother’s story within the 15-minute time limit to win the competition, Jasmine left out a lot of details.

After Erika graduated and got her degree, she took almost a decade off to raise Jasmine and her siblings and lost time and experience to her peers in the education field. 

“She got her first job at North Lake Elementary School teaching K through 5 music. She started putting on musicals with her students, and in her second year she put on the musical ‘The Greatest Showman’ with her fifth-grade class,” Jasmine said. 

Additionally, Erika has earned a master’s degree. Jasmine said she completed the master’s program — a five-semester program, according to the school’s adviser — in just two semesters. 

Now that Erika is finally in her dream position of teaching music to middle school and high school students, she’s reestablishing band and choir programs in the Castle Rock School District.

“She wants to start a marching band program. They have enough students, but the last band director kind of just let the program go,” Jasmine said.  

Erika is also getting her students involved in local band performances with other regional schools.

“Castle Rock hasn’t participated in that for a while. I don’t know how long. But my mom got them back into it and in their first year back they got the excellent rating, the second highest,” Jasmine said.

Jasmine added Erika hasn’t had the chance to get involved yet, but she plans to help revitalize Castle Rock’s theater program, too. 

As for the speech, it detailed struggles her mother overcame and others she continues to fight. Born in 1979, Erika was deaf, but nobody noticed until she was 3 years old. 

Due to this, she endured six surgeries from ages 3 to 9 in order to have tubes placed in her ears to correct her hearing. She also participated in speech therapy. Needless to say, school children in the 80s bullied her as she often had to wear headgear and was still learning to talk. 

By middle and high school, Erika had to take care of her siblings due to her parent’s addiction problems and abuse in the home. She still studied hard and participated in many extracurriculars, including music, which was her passion. 

Her first stint in college ended early when she was hospitalized due to a severe eating disorder,

After recovering, she would return to studying music education, but ended up getting pregnant.

That child with whom she was pregnant was Jasmine, and while Erika’s parents told her to drop out to raise her child, instead, she got married and stayed in school while raising Jasmine. To graduate faster, she enrolled in three colleges simultaneously. 

It was around this time cancerous cells were discovered in her cervix. 

She was successfully treated, had her second child and graduated with a degree in music education. 

Once in the education field, Erika faced sexism as it was thought at the time men should be teaching middle and high school aged children and women elementary kids. Her first job was at an elementary school. She also gave birth to two more children for a total of four. 

During this time, her doctor found more cancerous cells and Erika Preslicka underwent a hysterectomy, though her ovaries were left as she didn’t want early onset menopause. 

Once recovered, she went right back to work and decided to pursue a master’s degree simultaneously. Erika figured if she was overqualified, she might finally get a job at a high school.

The 44-year-old mother of four is now undergoing testing on a recently discovered, possibly cancerous ovarian cyst, but according to Jasmine, it’s just another challenge she’ll readily take on as someone with “unbreakable spirit.” 

“I feel like she made it real easy for me. She gave me a good story. I just had to figure out how to tell it. All the credit is to her on that. I just spoke,” Jasmine said. 

Before becoming the state champion, Jasmine said she had never taken a public speaking course before her adviser recommended she take McQuarrie’s course last year.  

Now that she has graduated from Centralia College, Jasmine plans to continue her education, but she is going to take a year or two off first and is moving to Montana to gain work experience and pursue different interests. 

“My problem is that I don’t have an idea of what I want to do. The problem is I have too many ideas and they’re all in completely different directions,” Jasmine said. “I kind of just got to take some time and work out what I want to do.” 

Being a champion public speaker, she can see herself in a number of professions, including teaching, business and law, though she thinks she’s eliminated law already. 

Centralia College hosts the Statewide Inspirational Speech Championship every year on the fourth Saturday in July. For more information, email McQuarrie at jeff.mcquarrie@centralia.edu.  

To watch Jasmine’s speech in its entirety, visit https://tinyurl.com/2aduzy7v and start at the one hour, 21 minute and 30 second mark.