A (Bitter)Sweet Goodbye-Kelly Zheng

Internally, I wanted to scream. It was a Friday night of my senior year and instead of going out and having a little fun, I was sitting at my desk desperately trying to learn everything that had happened in the world in the past two months. My head ached and my eyes drooped tiredly as I fumbled through the last of the articles I wanted to save to my files. Even though I had just gotten through a hundred articles, there were hundreds more waiting for me to file. But as the clock ticked closer to 2 AM, I felt my eyes begin to close... 

The next morning I awoke with a massive headache, horrible bed head, and an uncharged laptop — a typical sight the day of a tournament. As I dragged myself to my closet to put on an uncomfortable suit, I couldn’t help but wonder, “why do I do this to myself?”. 

As ironic as it seems, I would give anything to have a few more of those mornings. My last tournament is this weekend at the NSDA National Speech and Debate Tournament. To be glad to be done with late, frustrating nights of preparation is an understatement, but behind that feeling of relief is great nostalgia and sadness.

You see, even as a senior, I have yet to completely appreciate all that speech and debate has given me, and it has yet to sink in that I will no longer be part of this incredible activity once next week is over. It feels so strange to leave an activity that I have been immersed in for the past four years. When I think back on my high school experience, the memories that stand out the most to me are those I shared with my speech and debate team and friends. Some of the closest friends I made were once just fellow competitors and distant teammates, and some of my happiest memories were made in the cafeterias of random high schools. 

My only regret with speech and debate is not taking the time to fully enjoy every second of it, but my time is quickly running out, so to those who still have precious days, months, or years left in this activity, cherish your experience. Take the bad experiences — early mornings, bad ballots, rude competitors, bad topics, etc. — with a grain of salt. Take the good experiences and remember them forever. Slow down and soak in everything. Remember that once ten, fifteen years past, you won’t necessarily remember every win and loss you had, but rather the friends and memories you made.Take what you have learned and apply it beyond the sphere of high school competitive speech and debate. No, I don’t mean that you should go spew random facts about Indonesia to your friends, but rather, apply the skills you have learned. Speech and debate, whether you know it or not, has given you tools that others can only dream of having. Your ability to communicate, express your thoughts in a concise manner, and think on the spot are unmatched. This activity has given you the power to know that your voice is important and should be heard. 

I know that speech and debate can get a little (more like very) hectic and extremely stressful sometimes, so don’t be afraid to take a break. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter whether or not you file that last article, cut that last card, or attend that tournament. Take care of yourself. You are your most important tool and if you wear yourself down, there’s no plan b to turn to. 

Most importantly, remember to thank your parental figures and everyone who has helped you along the way. It’s easy to get caught up in only yourself because speech and debate is, for the most part, an individual event. Don’t forget those who have been with you every step of the way. Your parent(s) has likely spent hours judging events that they have never heard of, only to greet you with a bright smile at the awards ceremony and drive you home while you crash in the back seat. Your coaches have invested hours in you to ensure that you can be the best that you can be. Your friends and teammates have encouraged you and believed in you. Thank these people. 

With Love, 

Kelly Zheng