When Rhetoric Has Become a Reality-Ashika Jalagam

Nearly 3 years ago, I walked into my principal’s office and suggested that the school start a debate team. After 6 months of dozens of meetings and countless explanations that debate wasn’t just between two presidential candidates, I was finally given the chance to compete for my school. Throughout my life, I have been a relatively shy person who kept my thoughts and feelings to myself. When I initially brought the idea of a debate team to the attention of my school, I was honestly really unsure about my own potential to be successful as a debater and unaware of where this new road would take me. After the first few meetings with the administration, I was ready to walk away. Today, I am so thankful I didn’t.

The largest fear I had when joining debate was the feeling that I was going to be alone. I couldn’t imagine myself competing with larger schools with big names and the resources to succeed. I didn’t think I was capable of facing them. What I misunderstood about being forensics was that without a reputation or “clout” it would be incredibly difficult to succeed. I was quickly proven wrong.

I have always been a competitive person. I’ll be the first to admit that the first few times I broke at tournaments or received a trophy were some of the best feelings ever. This feeling is what drove me to keep competing. However, as my time in debate progressed and the trophies on my shelf accumulated, I realized the real importance of speech and debate in my life- it gave me a chance to speak up and memories to last a lifetime.

After a year of competing, I learned more about the world than I ever could have imagined, but there was still a part of me that was yearning for more. Instead of simply discussing the issues in the walls of a chamber, I now had the urge to do something about them. Especially in Congress, I have constantly heard rhetoric about refugees, the importance of environmental security, and unparalleled income inequality in the status quo. Don’t get me wrong, this rhetoric is important. The humanized impacts and solemn rhetoric that debaters use in their speeches create awareness, but it is up to us to actually do something to fix the issues. That summer, I began to work towards making the impacts used in debate into actual realities.

I wasn’t alone.

The amount of students involved in forensics that are involved in creating change astonishes me. Every corner of the country somebody is working on something. I know I don’t just speak for myself when I say that forensics has molded an entire population to create meaningful change in their communities. Friends in Florida who are working on political campaigns, students in New Jersey speaking up in state legislatures, people in California creating environmental awareness, the possibilities are endless. We are the future. We are finally creating change. Our rhetoric has turned to reality.

Thank you, speech and debate, for giving me the opportunity for my voice to be heard. Thank you for educating me on issues I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. But most importantly, for letting every single student in this activity understand the importance of their voice in the world today.  

Nearly 3 years ago I stepped foot in my principal's office; but after 2.5 years of non-stop prepping, stress, and butterflies in my stomach, I have realized that I don’t need a team to be successful. The people I have met in speech and debate are my team, and I will be forever grateful.