‘Something that changes students’ lives’

High school senior Marlene Talamantes clearly has a way with words. She spent a day at the University of Colorado Law School and spoke her way right into a trip to Washington, D.C., and a tour of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Before the competition, Talamantes was not sure she would go to college.  Now she sees college as a definite part of her future and plans to pursue a career in teaching or law. 

Talamantes was one of 41 underrepresented students from Colorado high schools who competed in the second Colorado Marshall-Brennan Moot Court Competition hosted by Colorado Law’s Byron R. White Center in February. Nearly 200 high school students, teachers, administrators and parents attended the arguments involving the First Amendment and how it applies to student speech on a school-sponsored website.

After three rounds of argument in the morning, the top six competitors were invited to present a final argument in front of the three distinguished jurists – Judge Neil Gorsuch of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, Chief Justice Michael Bender of the Colorado Supreme Court and Judge Terry Fox of the Colorado Court of Appeals. They named Talamantes the Top Oralist.

“This program gave me an idea of what I am capable of doing in my future.”  Talamantes said. “It is something that changes students’ lives because for most students it is a new thing to stand up in front of lawyers and present an argument.  I used to be self-conscious about how people would see me, but now I have an awareness that I can present myself well.”

The competition was just one piece of the Colorado Marshall-Brennan Project. The project sends law students into high school classes in the Denver metro area weekly during the school year to partner with social studies teachers in teaching about the Constitution. More than 500 students in 10 high schools have taken part in the program since it began in 2012.

Talamantes, a senior representing North Valley School for Young Adults in Thornton, was the first finalist to present her argument. “The judges were going really hard on me,” she said. “I think they knew that I was prepared.”

Although Talamantes was surprised by her win, Sara Milius, one of her teachers at North Valley, was not. “Marlene went into the competition ready to do well for herself,” Milius said. “She was confident and spent a lot of time preparing.”

For Talamantes, the highlight of the competition came when she had an opportunity to talk with Chief Justice Bender. “He gave me a few words of advice and told me that I was their top choice because of how well I knew the information,” Talamantes explained. “He was so comfortable around me that I realized I should be comfortable around him, too. I didn’t expect a judge to be like that.”

As one of the six finalists, Talamantes will have the opportunity to compete in the National Marshall-Brennan Moot Court Competition in Washington, D.C., in April. The White Center is raising funds to cover the students’ travel expenses.

Talamantes is excited to take her argument even further at the national competition, and she is already looking forward to next year’s event at Colorado Law. “I am going to come back next year — probably every year — to support others,” Talamantes said. “Once you are at the competition, you realize how much work students put into this. It is really cool.”

For more information visit the Colorado Marshall-Brennan Project website.