I joined speech and debate by accident. It was my freshman year of high school and I, like most other freshmen, had signed up for Introduction to Speech. Unfortunately, the class was full, and so I was instead placed in the next best option: Advanced Debate. It was initially very daunting. My team was small, and there were few freshmen (and none of those freshmen were on the team by accident). The stress that came with this unfamiliar environment continued into my first demoralizing, trophyless debate tournament. I recall the beautiful visual of me ugly-crying in my dad’s minivan in a nearby Steak and Shake parking lot after the tournament.
After a few more trophyless tournaments and numerous one-on-one sessions with my coach, I began to learn how to more effectively communicate—and how to actually do well at tournaments. Spending time training, both with my team and independently, continued for years, culminating in June of 2017, when I became a national champion in International Extemporaneous Speaking at the NSDA national tournament. I now recognize that speech has shown me the importance of perseverance. My hope is that other initially discouraged competitors might see what can happen when you work hard even in the face of defeat. Sometimes, you need the post-tournament Steak and Shake recuperation sessions if you want to have the joy that comes with winning national championships.
Speech has also impacted me in more tangible ways. Through my participation in the activity, I learned the practical and ever-useful skills of research, writing, oral communication, and how to function on four hours of sleep on the weekends.
teachspeech is an organization which has the power to improve every competitors’ experience and involve more people in such a transformative activity.
I joined speech and debate by accident—but hindsight has shown me its immeasurable impact on my communication skills and leadership capabilities. If, during my early years in high school, structured curriculum existed which guided students through effective communication and the formulation of arguments, I imagine my trophyless first debate tournament could have had a different outcome. Teachspeech offers just that. With teachspeech, perhaps more accidental competitors can have a journey similar to mine, and perhaps more students will have the resources necessary to be competitors in the first place.
Further than just improving the experience of current debaters, teachspeech is important because it reaches crowds that would usually never consider speech and debate. This is essential because communication is necessary in contexts broader than just classrooms with three judges. Communication is the medium by which we fight misinformation in a post-truth world, relay facts in an era of alternative ones, and better understand each other in a political climate plagued by polarization.
For those still participating in speech and debate, cherish these moments while they last. Take full advantage of the opportunities for civil discourse, and have conversations about things that matter. Enjoy the relationships you have with the awesome people around you. Have fun. Win lots.
But most importantly, use your voice for advocacy. Support organizations such as teachspeech who work to make the benefits of speech accessible across the country. Use your voice to help others to find theirs.