Nearly 5 years ago I walked into my first speech and debate meeting. At the budding age of 13, my world consisted of video games and basketball. I was a shy child, unsure of myself and unaware of the possibilities that Speech and Debate would bring to me in the next 4 years. At that first meeting, I nearly turned away. With blatant apathy, I decided to stick it out.
Throughout the next four years Speech was formative to my personhood. I lacked little natural talent or the charisma that I would grow to rely on in competition. It took over 3 years in the activity for me to reach a competitively competent level. Throughout that time, I wondered why I would invest thousands of hours in practice and travel thousands of miles to never break out of prelims. Seeing friends and teammates achieve early success led me to question whether this activity was truly for me.
I’m glad I stayed. Throughout all the hours spent practicing, I was growing as a person. Speaking in front of random strangers gave me newfound self-confidence. Research exposed me to communities far away from my own, developing within me a compassion for the world’s tribulations. Obviously, as I gained experience, I was rewarded competitively. But the joy of competitive success is ephemeral.
As trophies collected on my shelf, breaking and awards felt negligible. But at that point, Speech had become a routine. Daily practices and filing throughout the week to be capped off with competition on the weekend, ending with a shiny piece of plastic. At that point, my speeches became formulaic. Rarely did I stray from the tried and true methods that had won me trophies in the past. During round, I went into autopilot, only passively engaging in what I was doing. Once again, I wondered why I stayed in this activity, only now for a new reason.
By my senior year, burnout from Speech became palpable. The work that I had put in now felt like a grind rather than a hobby that I could grow from. As I arrived to the last few tournaments of my 5-year career, a change in outlook was sparked. For the longest time, I felt that few of my natural talents would ever translate over into Speech. I had bleached my own personality from my speeches. I stopped caring about breaks and trophies. I had just a few rounds left in my career and I finally started speaking for myself. In crafting my speeches, if something wasn’t fun for me it wasn’t included in my speeches.
Those final few months were the most fun I had in my 5 years of Speech. I learned two things: that people of all talents have a place in this activity and that speech is a source of growth for everyone who participates in it. Now, just a year removed from the activity, I am doing things that would be unimaginable to the 13-year-old boy that nearly turned away from Speech. Speech gave me self-confidence to challenge myself to do the impossible. Speech gave me failures to teach me grit and self-determination. Speech gave me passion to channel my resolve. For all of this, I’m glad that tween me decided to stay.