Lessons Learned and Confidence Earned-Shefali Das

10 Things I learned from Speech and Debate:

1. Running in heels is a varsity sport. 

2. Suit shopping is a cathartic experience.

3. Oratory hands don’t just apply to oratory - they stick with you for the rest of your life. 

4. The same applies for puns! And speech hair!

5. Self-confidence is not determined by an off-on switch. It takes time, and isn’t a constant either. 

6. It’s okay to have an off day. Or an off season. 

7. The trophies, ballots and rankings don’t matter. What sticks with you is how you’ve grown as a person. 

8. You are never too anything (old/young/etc.) to share your opinions and values. Your input matters, always. 

9. Never be afraid to admit ignorance. Ignorance and stupidity are not the same, and you should always ask that extra clarifying question.

10. Never be a bystander - you're in speech and debate to use your voice for those who can’t. If you see something, say something - whether it be in school or in the world, never be afraid to tell it how it is. Do something about it. Your decision to be a speaker gives you the responsibility of action.

To be honest, when I was asked to write this blog post, I was absolutely honored. And scared. (Mostly scared). How was I supposed to put the best seven years of my life into a six to nine paragraph account? It’s ironic, isn’t it? I spent years of my life laying out my most complex thoughts into carefully written speeches, but when I’m asked to describe what that experience means to me, I come up completely speechless. The best way I can describe how I feel when I hear the word “Forensics” is genuine happiness. I smile just thinking about the memories, the people, and the pieces. I miss it - I truly do. This weekend, my favorite people competed at the Yale Invitational Tournament, and I realized how much I missed suiting up. I coach now, and oftentimes, people ask me how I got involved in Forensics in the first place. Let’s start at the very beginning:

Timid and shy, that’s how I entered Randolph Middle School in sixth grade. At first, I honestly debated (like I said, the puns never quite leave you) whether or not to join forensics, seeing as public speaking was the last thing a quiet eleven year old wanted to get herself involved in. My parents thought it would be a good way for me to open up, and convinced me to attend one meeting. If I didn’t like it, I’d find something else. When I went to my first meeting, I sat in the very back corner, behind a stack of over-filled backpacks, and watched in awe as the high school team performed for us. I was absolutely shocked - how was it possible that someone just a few years older than me could have so much confidence, to be that comfortable in front of so many discerning eyes? I decided that I would stick with it - at least for a little while - thinking that the supportive, judgement-free environment might help me come out of my shell. Little did I know the depth of the impact forensics would have on me, in every aspect of my life.

Speech quickly became one of my favorite creative outlets. I looked forward to suiting up every Saturday and spending hours with my closest friends, sharing ideas and articulating our thoughts. Through forensics, I learned that no loss is truly a loss - every experience, every interaction and every relationship built me to become the person I am today. I learned to stand up for what I believe in, and never let stereotypes get in the way of who I want to be. 

Perhaps the most incredible thing about speech and debate, however, is how it translated into other aspects of my life. Because of the skills I developed in forensics, I was able to present my own original research at an international scientific conference in Milan, Italy at the age of 16. I was able to sing the National Anthem at freshmen convocation in front of 10,000 of my new classmates at UC Berkeley this semester. I am able to start and hold conversations with anybody about almost any topic. I am able to appreciate and learn from different points of view. 

Something as seemingly simple as joining a club in middle school translated into life changing experiences and a new world view. 

Forensics is more than a competition. While we’re waking up at 6AM, suiting up, warming up, competing, reading ballots and improving, something bigger is happening behind the scenes. We are becoming better people - every speech, every intro, every round, every ballot makes us better listeners, deeper thinkers, and more active citizens. 

I’ll admit - there were times when I wanted to quit. There were times when I thought, “Anything would be better than waking up before the sun, spending hours upon hours in school, when I could be asleep or literally anywhere else”. There were tournaments and weeks and even seasons that I did not break, times that I thought that I wasn’t cut out for it. But every single time I felt this way, I was reminded of how much forensics was changing me for the better. My team - my family - reminded me of how important my involvement in speech and debate was to me. 

Forensics has had a tremendous influence in my life, and has undoubtedly been the most incredible experience I’ve ever had. When I look back at these seven years, I won’t remember the ranks, medals, trophies or ballots. I will remember the long bus rides, crazy warmups, sprinting in heels to get to rounds, and the memories, speeches, and people who made me who I am today.