A Fantastic Farewell-Lekha Sunder

The minute I heard about the concept for teachspeech from Chris, I was hooked. Debate has contributed so much to my identity and life story, and teachspeech helps hundreds of young students across the country be inspired in the same way I was. To be able to provide similar experiences to students across the country would be exemplifying speech and debate’s most integral value: activism through communication. Because, if there is anything I’ve learned from speech and debate, it is that simply talking about the issues isn’t enough— there has to be movement behind your words.

I joined debate in the sixth grade because of my older sister, and entered with the limited passion that comes from doing something out of obligation. However, I quickly fell in love with arguing, researching cases, and the adrenaline that came from watching postings being taped up, whether I was on them or not. While I ended up swiftly switching over to the calmer, arguably more boring speech side by choosing extemp as my main event, I still thank PF and LD for giving me the energy necessary to commit to long weekends and endless preparation.

Debate is what fostered my interest in public policy, international relations, and political science. I found myself reading articles from the Brookings Institution first to file, then out of sheer interest. Even my debate friends who plan on going into engineering or mathematics still credit debate for forcing them to connect these cerebral subjects with the wider world in which we live.

My favorite experiences have been in prep rooms—both those where I am a nervous outsider, guarded by my laptop and those where I’ve gotten the chance to speak to the people whose speeches I learned from. It is a strange sensation, but I feel like in the prep room, there is mutual understanding and recognition. Sure, there is definitely competition brewing, but at a fundamental level, we are all connected by our passion for the activity.

Oftentimes, debaters are criticized for their “extra” approaches to the activity. Some will laugh at those who stay up late filing or cutting cards. For me, this pressure to “be cool and not try” almost over-powered my desire to compete fiercely and make the investment my family and coach have made into my success worth it.

Debate is in no way a perfect activity. My time in debate has been clouded by feelings of self-doubt and vulnerability. I often felt insecure about not going to enough circuit tournaments, not doing well at tournaments I was really preparing for, and what, mainly who, I was missing to be at these tournaments. Debate made me eat rarely and poorly during tournaments, sleep later and less, and often, out of personal desire to succeed, made me place filing over homework.

Throughout these issues, I have never regret doing debate in high school. It has provided me with friends that I cherish— people that are substantial and supportive and, most importantly, amazing conversationalists. Debate has given me purpose and inspired me to pursue other opportunities, such as teaching speech to elementary school students, volunteering and working on political campaigns, and just speaking up for an idea or person in a classroom discussion.

There is a time of a high school debater’s life where they face a dilemma: allow senioritis to consume them and stop prepping or make the last few tournaments really worth it. I’m facing this dilemma as we speak. But, after reminiscing on the past four years via this article, I think I’m going to go with the latter.