Sammi Saunders
Sammi Saunders was named Arizona District Student of the Year for the National Forensics League. Saunders is graduating this year and will attend the ASU Honors College. Submitted photo

Desert Vista High School senior Sammi Saunders has been recognized as one of the top members of the National Forensics League.

Saunders was named the Arizona District Student of the Year last week and is now being considered for a spot in the top six National Student of the Year finalists.

The award is given based on a variety of character traits, including leadership and integrity, and Saunders has served in a leadership position all four years on the Desert Vista Thunder Speech, Theatre and Debate team. She was nominated by her coaches.

"I was really calmed by my coaches throughout my speech and debate experience," she said. "Through them I learned leadership."

Saunders credited her team and its successes as a driving force.

"(Speech and debate) is so intricate and being a part of this movement of high school students to speak their mind is awesome," she said. "It is great to be a part of something bigger than yourself."

Saunders, 18, who is also the student body president at DV, was accepted into the Arizona State University Honors College and will pursue a degree in kinesiology. She hopes to work as an occupational therapist and it was being around her younger sister Mackenzie, who was partially paralyzed in December 2009, which inspired her.

"I never knew about it as an option for a career," she said. "Mackenzie had a great therapist and her recovery inspired me to go on and pursue this as a way to give back."

Saunders said leaving DV and her team is bittersweet.

"The hardest part about graduating is leaving this team," she said. "We had such a good feeling of camaraderie together and we all put our hearts out there for every event."

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