“The following codes have advanced to Quarterfinals in room 306; 212, 205, 228, 255, 219, 252”
I was number 230, my code wasn't called, and I was obviously upset.
My name is Renan. I am a student and a fellow Speech and Debater at the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School in NYC. I am a senior and have been doing Extemp for 4 years now. I have a confession, I have never broken at a national tournament. Now sure, this can be taken either as an embarrassment or something completely normal. I’ve been the Speech Team Co-President for a year, and I went to the George Mason Institute of Forensic camp over the summer before my Senior year. The past four years on my Speech & Debate Team I’ve come to realize the hard truth about Speech. When you sign that permission slip to go to a competition, you’re also signing away for your mental health to completely move out of your own control.
It was October 12th, 2018. We all go through the standard protocol of waking up extremely early before the tournament and putting our suits or dresses on and getting right to work. This tournament meant a lot to me because it was in my city. Yale was just a month ago and I was trying to start the speech season off with a bang. Throughout the day, I noticed everyone was extremely worried and frantic. In the morning, everyone was extremely happy to see their friends from different states. However, when it came to competition time for the extempers, a lot of them were worried about what was going to happen next. After breaks were posted I noticed a lot of cheering, sighing of relief from friends, and crying too. Some of them were crying because they broke, and some because they didn’t. Now it’s extremely normal for interpers, extempers, debaters, to cry over not breaking. Hey, I’ve done it numerous times as well. But I also realized the amount of stress and waves of depression hit kids that broke. Breaking doesn’t mean for a student that they are the happiest in the world, there's definitely going to be stress when a student does or even doesn’t break.
I’ve never realized until now how connected one's mental health is to speech. They do seem like different topics, however, they are ultimately closely connected. This past senior year, I have talked to numerous amount of competitors that have not been breaking to finals at every national tournament and the responses I’ve been getting have been similar in many ways. They cry. Some of them post about it on social media as a cry for help, but unfortunately, many take it as a joke or don’t care at all. Some try to talk to me about it or some don’t. Some hide it from their coaches and teammates or put a fake smile whenever they are at practice or at competitions. Speech and Debate and whatever is happening at home can definitely bring a toll on one's mental health and figure. Now I am definitely not saying that this happens to everyone, but competitors need to realize that everyone is human, and more people need to start asking if their friends or even strangers are okay. A lot of us have no clue what is going on with each other lives and the fact is there is a stigma to talk about mental health in speech is sad. A lot of competitors like to ignore it or talk about if they have too, however, this past year we have already seen competitors take their lives away either because of speech or what they have going on at home. Understand, how crying is cathartic. We shouldn’t be afraid of being upset and speaking out. Speech teaches teens to deal with disappointment. Just because you work hard, it doesn’t mean you're going to get an extrinsic reward.
With the number of tournaments that are left, competitors, judges, and even coaches need to talk to each other about mental health. The stigma that lays with mental health needs to be ripped apart and more people need to start talking before it's too late. Breaking shouldn’t be a priority always, going to away competitions shouldn’t be a priority when a students mental health is depleting each day. We should check in with each other more after breaks are posted or even during the competition. We need to treat our mental health like our extemp speeches, with caution and planning to move forward. If you are a competitor whose experiencing any such mental illness but is still competing every weekend, understand that you need to put yourself first than anything else. Cry it out, talk to someone. Your mental health isn’t something that you can just control, your friends and family are here to help you. Bottling it up won’t make a difference. You aren’t alone. You need to make those steps to keep moving forward.
Breaking isn’t everything, even if you do or don’t break, look around you and speak like you do in your speeches. Have a crying circle with your friends, or just text them. I can probably assume that competition that they are prepping for can be put on hold for you. You matter much more than their speeches. Talking about your speeches is important, don’t get me wrong, but what's more important is how you and others are feeling.
Thanks for reading,