Unlike most people who are ride-or-die for this activity, I started speech and debate relatively late in my high school career: the middle of sophomore year, to be exact. Despite being a late bloomer (or late speaker, I suppose), I quickly fell in love with forensics and found my niche in extemporaneous speaking.
When I first started competing, it was a rough time to be Bradley Wascher. The first extemp I ever gave was on the question “Will the US have another government shutdown?”, and my initial reaction was, “Wait, the government can shut down?!” After a three-and-a-half minute mess that began with a comparison of Congress to Mean Girls and ended with an apology to my judge, I walked out of the room absolutely confused and defeated.
To be honest, if I was participating in any other extracurricular, I likely would have just given up after that tragic first tournament. Yet, for some reason, forensics was different. Each extemp milestone I reached – hitting seven minutes, including the correct number of citations, making my jokes land – motivated me to work harder and dream bigger. Eventually, what started out as “Oh, I guess I’ll do this because whatever” became “Holy cow, this is actually the coolest thing ever.” The rest, as they say, was history.
The next two years of high school were a prep-induced blur. After traveling to as many competitions as I could, I began to find my way in the activity. Yet, I didn’t fully understand how it was changing my life until it came time to apply to college. While most of my friends were preparing to either go to state schools or top-tier universities, I realized that I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to forensics just yet. So, I applied to Western Kentucky University (a strange choice for an Alabama native) and joined their collegiate speech and debate team. I’m currently in my sophomore year, and I couldn’t be happier.
Sure, to some participants, speech and debate can function as a fun pastime, or a way to make yourself more appealing to big-shot colleges. For most, however, the activity provides a developmental outlet like no other. When I stumbled into my forensics coach’s office, I was an awkward kid who thought he knew more about the world than he actually did. When I walked out two-and-a-half years later (metaphorically; I promise I didn’t actually spend 30 consecutive months there), I was more articulate, poised, and mature than 10thgrade Bradley could ever have imagined.
Indeed, competing in forensics allowed me, and many others, to hone crucial life skills. Speech and debate has encouraged me to defend my beliefs, taught me to express my thoughts, and given me the research tools necessary to succeed both in-round and in the classroom. As cliché as it may sound, this activity truly has made me a better version of myself, and the same is true for the hundreds of thousands of students who have participated.
Because of where I chose to go to college, I’m fortunate enough to still be competing in speech and debate. That being said, I still want to impart nuggets of advice to whomever read this far:
For everyone who has hung up their suits and put away their legal pads, I hope you cherished every minute of your time in speech and debate.
For those who are still competing, be sure to thank your coaches and hold onto the little things. Waking up at 6:00 AM on a Saturday may seem awful now, but you’re going to miss it when you’re done. Just believe me on this one.
For administrators who are curious about the value of this activity, wonder no more – forensics is invaluable, and that’s a fact that can’t be debated.