“I think I’m gonna try to write an OO.” These were the words I said to my debate coach after leaving yet another tournament feeling unsatisfied with myself and my performance. I started competing my sophomore year, and although I knew of all of the different events I could potentially dive into, I felt almost bound to an event which required me to act and perform-rather than try an event that would exercise my ability to speak as just myself. At the time, not only did that seem absolutely terrifying, but downright impossible. I mean could you imagine? Having to talk for ten minutes straight without even having anything in your hands? I could hardly fathom the idea. Acting was something I’d been doing for years. I joined theatre arts in the seventh grade, and I absolutely fell in love with the stage. Being a character on stage in front of a full crowd? Piece of cake! Being myself in front of a room of 7 people? Somehow, that felt out of the question. But thankfully, having a supportive coach pushed me into gaining the courage to at least try to escape my comfort zone and just write the thing. And so I did.
I can remember the day clearly. The very first time I took my Oratory for a test drive I was a junior and the tournament was at Arlington High School. The minute I saw my name on those postings on the window I felt as if I was going to lose my breakfast. The words, “I can’t do this” were running through my head over and over and over again. I even contemplated skipping my round and just telling my coach I got sick. But something inside me told me that it was going to be worth it. Something just felt like this was going to be the feeling that I’d been waiting for. The feeling that told me that this is the reason that I’m competing. So I walked into my room, and I spoke. I spoke as myself; about the misrepresentation of minorities in film. I can confidently say that nothing I had ever done before had felt that incredible. Because it was me speaking. And about something that I was passionate about. I never even realized that was something that I wanted to do until I had done it. And from then on I couldn’t get enough. I left the round and-puked. But after giving my speech I remember how powerful I had felt walking back to my seat knowing that my words had left an impact on my audience. That at least something that I had said was bound to resonate with my judge or with my competitors. And at the very least, people were going to listen. You never realize how much you really want people to listen to you until you’re in a room full of people who are there, specifically, to listen.
My senior year in Speech and Debate was the most momentous year of my life thus far. With the help and nonstop support of my coach, Matthew Stewart, I wrote the most important thing I have ever written. My oratory was about the hegemony of English in the United States and the impact that has on our population who speak English as their second language. I had never believed in something more, nor been more passionate than I was than when I gave this speech. Each week was spent getting amped up for the tournament to come that Saturday. It was never about the success, the trophies, or the titles I would or wouldn’t earn that weekend. It was about speaking about a subject that was important. Making someone’s voice feel heard, even when they felt like as if they had no voice to begin with. Years from now, when I can't tell the tournaments that awarded me first from the ones that awarded me third, what I will be able to remember are the people who came up to me afterwards to thank me for speaking about something they didn’t have the courage to. I will remember the people who told me that my words brought them to tears with all the truth they’d left unspoken. And I will remember the people who said that my message was important to them. That the truth that I was speaking, was not only speaking for me. Through all the hardships and difficulties that I faced that season: from being told that my speaking spanish—my first language—during a round made people uncomfortable, to having to drop from the competition during Nationals because of severe illness, I can’t imagine it going any other way. And for those who ever feel themselves getting discouraged, I promise you; even if you haven’t heard it yet- your words matter. To someone, somewhere, your words are making a difference. Oratory brought out the best part of me. And I can only hope that whoever chooses to participate in this event, is doing so because they feel the same way. Go out and speak your truth. Speak for those who won’t and speak for those who can’t. Use your voice. It matters.