More than Just a High Schooler-Katie McKenzie

When I started high school, I didn’t really have any friends that carried over from middle school. So, I got involved in as many clubs as possible. Granted, this meant that I unintentionally threw myself into a lot of awkward situations in the name of being included.  The most prominent example of this was when I went to my first speech and debate meeting.  At no other point in my life have I fit the image of a confused freshman so well. Many of the freshman there were in the Speech and debate class. I had never envied those people more in my life.  At that first meeting, they knew what was going on, and they were already on their way to prepping performances and everything.  Meanwhile, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I had never really heard about what speech and debate was. The coach at the time said if I thought I might be interested in debate, I should go to this room where the captain of the debate team would be explaining things. Well, I was in for a surprise because the captain, and only debater on the team, was a sophomore who was barely out of his novice year. This made for a beautifully cringeworthy freshman speech year especially since I wasn’t going to back down after I had already shown interest in the activity. 

So, the stage is set for me to make an utter fool of myself, and oh did I. The coach wasn’t super focused on debate, so it was essentially four kids ranging from freshman to sophomore trying to figure things out. And while this may seem critical of my first coach, I am grateful to the hilarity that was my novice year. I have a bond with those other debaters that few could understand or match. After a few tournaments of looking silly but having fun, my school brought in a former debater who helped us make leaps and bounds. Midway through the year though, my team got a new coach who literally changed the game for me. He agreed when I suggested trying extemporaneous speaking in an effort to improve my rebuttals in debate.  Now, in hindsight, very few people can get away with casually doing extemp… Yet, to the surprise of my teammates, I fell in love and never turned back.  I loved learning about the political world I lived in.  I especially was a sponge to water with regards to the international sphere. My coach even fed my nerdiness with some of the best publication subscriptions. My success grew exponentially and I was having more fun than I ever had. 

Although I was well known on the local circuit, I did not start pushing to be a national presence until my senior year.  Even then, I never got close to how amazing many of the other teachspeech directors are.  And although that is a bummer in its own way, I’m ok with it. Few things will ever top the rush I get when I speak, it didn’t matter if it was a preliminary round in Louisiana, or a National Semi-final in Kentucky. I just liked to speak, awards and trophies were just icing on the cake for me.  Not to mention, I was part of my team when we were rebuilding up to the standards of a previous era.  It was a small team and there were never more than two extmpers on the team at a time.  It wasn’t really in the cards for me to be the best of the best, but my life and my friend’s lives were changed all the same. 

In my opinion, the best part of speech is learning about one’s capability to change their surroundings.  No matter what event I did, I had the capability to change a room’s perception of whatever I was talking about.  That is some serious power for one high school student to possess. Everyone cares about something, and Speech and debate provides the avenue to give that subject exposure.  Nowadays, people get stuck shouting into the void that is social media, but in speech, the student is able to make a real connection with the people in that room.  Once I learned about this possibility, I tried my best to spread knowledge of this awesomeness everywhere I went. 

My sophomore year, I became a part of the leadership structure on my team, and I’d like to think that I helped grow our numbers.  Whenever someone asked me, I could sing the praises of speech for days on end.  Yet, I think the best encouragement I could ever give was not spoken.  I was just a nerdy kid walking around with boxes of news publications in an ill-fitting suit.  However, my persona exuded the confidence and intelligence that I was gaining from the activity.  By the time I was the captain of my team senior year, I hadn’t really changed much.  My suits looked better, but I was still having as much fun as always, and people saw that. I was my school’s poster-child for finding your niche. 

Looking back on my time in speech and debate, I know the activity isn’t necessarily for everyone.  Still, I tell everyone to try it just once.  Not only does it teach students how to create an effective argument and statement, but it also teaches these students that the world is their message’s oyster.  Even if I had never won a single tournament in my whole career, I wouldn’t trade it for anything because I was able to see people’s perceptions of the world change based off the words coming out of my mouth.  A lot of kids are told the whole tale about how they can change the world.  Yet, I never really believed it until I had speech to prove to me that I actually had power in my voice and the words it projected. My speech career had the possibility to be a train wreck.  Instead, I learned that I can impact and improve people’s lives.  Now, I want to be a biomedical engineer so that I can put actions to my words.  I never would’ve had the confidence to have such a daring major without Speech and Debate.