Debate Didn't Just Change My Life, It Saved it-Luca Moretti

The TV show Parks and Recreation has been a large part of my life. When I was bullied out of school and diagnosed with Autism at the age of 12, I watched the first 4 seasons religiously and it offered me a glimpse into a world radically different from mine. It showed me that there is a world where everyone loves each other, accepts differences, and finds humor in the mundane. The show was there for me when schools denied me the rights for in-class help. It was there through everything and ended its initial run when I ended 10th Grade. In 11th Grade, I found my own Parks Department-Speech and Debate, and I accidentally become Speech and Debate’s Male Leslie Knope. As I rewatched the last two seasons this week, I cried a lot more, I understood what it was like to move on from what you loved. The first 4 seasons of the show was similar to my 7th-10th grade not knowing what I was doing, 5th and 6th finally finding what I loved mirroring her rise to City Council and then it being taken away but it made me realize there is a lot more than debate. This metaphor might seem dumb, but Parks and Rec and Debate are very similar to my life in the beauty of genuine stories. I spent the last year telling my own genuine story, but I realized no matter how much I tell it, it is impossible for the average person to understand. Every day, I suffer with Depression, the feeling of worthlessness, the lack of purpose. Every day, I suffer from Anxiety. I spent a year working through anxiety only for it to hit me again once I went to Nationals. These two mental health issues are compounded with the fact that I had been bullied out of school twice, before I was even diagnosed. An extreme stigma surrounding my disability that leads some of my extended family to not believe I have it. The education system that I went through that gives more services to people who are considered gifted and talented then disabled. An education system that failed to give me services. The fact I graduated, found purpose and took AP classes speaks volumes of the people I know. To be honest speech and debate didn’t change my life it saved it.

My entire life had been the opposite of fair. I had no intervention at a young age. It is the direct reason I am not going to a four year college. However, the connections and people I met at speech and debate that are the reason I am standing here today. All of my teammates who made Speech and Debate special. People from the larger NorCal community used their platform to speak out about the disadvantages in debate and used OO to talk about not being your own genuine self. Their advocacy inspired me and showed how special debate is.

But still, it is hard to understand my disability. I don’t really ever show it to people because I try to mask it. If I ever show my real self, people either baby me or are scared off. I bottle up who I am. I don’t cry or break down. Only a few people have seen this side of me, my Parents, Administrators and a few close friends. No one can understand what it is like to have this disability where you appear normal to everyone but everyday your brain is racing, it can’t slow down. You can’t read social cues, are too anxious to drive, live by yourself, or have real relationships with people you care about. Because it is incredibly hard to understand, please show support when you talk to people with unique experiences. Take what my debate partner said to me at Nationals when I was down and depressed: “I don’t know what your going through, and I can’t understand, but I’m here for you.

At Nationals, many of these unresolved feelings about where I stood in the speech community hit me while watching Duo Interpretation finals. In a piece about autism, a competitor stated that, “I wish I could be a normal kid.” Even though they didn’t understand the deep pain of living like a second class citizen, they acted out this story claiming to shed a light on the people without a voice. I, in the audience, had a voice. I spoke about this disability in a genuine light everyday. I deserved to be a unique voice on the final stage, but because my story makes people uncomfortable, it could never happen. I am deeply offended because that wasn’t their story to tell. That wasn’t the life that they live. They don’t have infinite obstacles to happiness and success. I had just gotten a four and been eliminated from Impromptu for telling a genuine story that was my own. I was so offended and sad I walked out of the room went to the third floor, so I started to cry. I realized that I would never reach that final stage and the obstacles to break at that tournament were simply too steep, but still I had accomplished a lot. I was the first person with Autism in recent memory to receive the Orator’s Cup in CVFL, to break at the state tournament, and break at the Berkeley National Tournament. The reason that I was able to do this was because of an inspiring encounter at National Qualifiers last March. In rounds of Extemp and Congress, I was judged by a key figure at my community, who told my coach that I had potential. Beyond the compliment, my coach revealed that he was on the autistic spectrum. It showed me that someone on the spectrum could be a successful coach, and that I, too, could have a place in this community. Role models who also share a similar experience are incredibly important, and they are the reason that I am excited to be a coach. I want to leave with one piece of advice. You can never truly understand someone else’s experience, so respect others’ disabilities and stories. Someone with a disability can have a voice, and if you don’t have a direct connection, don’t play that person in an interpretation event. It can be hurtful and insensitive. Second, when you don’t know the story of someone else, the language you use can be hurtful. Be mindful of the rhetoric you use, and offer every student the same dignity. Third, make a conscious effort to understand things you find uncomfortable to discuss. If you want to talk to me about disabilities in the debate space, the education system or depression, let me know. CVFL, Congressional Debaters, Orators, and all the members in the community saved my life. Find your Parks and Rec, find your weird quirky and caring community, it might just save your life.

Thought Bubble: The Costs of Camp Culture

For debaters who have competed for the past nine months, July is the time to relax and finally do something besides prep. In my case, it means binge-watching twenty to thirty seasons of different reality television shows, but to each their own. Still, a select few debaters decide to lengthen their season with a preseason training: an elite debate camp. Over the past few years, scores of elite, perfectly packaged, and well resourced camps have become the monopolizers of circuit success. These institutes are staffed by the nation’s highest ranked debaters, coach the nation’s highest performing competitors, and have the nation’s most expensive tuitions. Still, while these camps are eager to feature their competitive advantage, they are equally enthusiastic to ignore the social stratification that these camps create. 

At a price tag of around $2,500, students receive 40-50 hours of group and individual instruction. Subtracting the time wasted, the socialization time, and special events, students are paying more per hour at camp than they would in a one-on-one private lesson. When students attend debate camps in 2018, they’re going less for content and more for connections. In debate, students can create valuable prep circles and relationships with coaches that’ll serve as their judges later on in the season. In speech, students build friend groups that will watch their speeches, put in a good word to their own coach, and help them find material to add into their pieces during the season. Obviously, for those paying, this is a rightful prize. Camp is an investment that has its returns, but in an academic event, where students should be judged by their academic and performative ability, some are boxed out of winning because they cannot make the initial investment. 

In three years, my parents had the financial ability to send me to one camp: the NSDA’s Online Extemp Institute. In five days, I was afforded twenty five hours of instruction for less than $10 an hour. This opportunity gave me the chance to interact with some of the most distinguished extemporaneous speaking alumni in the United States, learn the “tricks of the national circuit,” and become a more established name in the event I competed regularly in. We did not have a glamorous lecture hall, a spotless social media page, or a staff that had won every national championship in recent history, but we had enough to become far better speakers. Our small family in the NSDA online institute went on to have some success on the circuit all because the opportunity had been created for an affordable camp. 

Perhaps the most heartbreaking article that I read this year was “Why We Aren’t Having a Camp This Year” from the founder of the ASDF. This Florida camp, one of the only affordable yet resourced options for students, could not afford operational costs without raising prices unsustainably. Camps are absolutely expensive to run, but as options like ASDF are forced to shutter their doors, it’s the responsibility of larger camps to create even more scholarships or work with large school programs to scholarship students. Camps with online sections are paving the way for a more inclusive learning experience, and private coaches are starting to diminish the gap between camp and non-camp students. Ultimately, there’s a certain fear of missing out that always comes during camp season, but don’t lose hope at the sparkling pictures. There are affordable options to become a great speaker or debater, and we can only work to create more. 

Words Need Action-Ben Lipson

We will now announce the top six competitors in novice extemporaneous speaking.”

I was so nervous. After delivering numerous incoherent speeches rarely exceeding four minutes, I was certain I wasn’t in the top six, even in a field of only twelve. I figured there was no chance I could possibly place higher than fifth or sixth. My heart sunk as I heard the sixth, fifth, and fourth place competitors announced, with my name nowhere to be heard. I closed my eyes, ashamed at my expected failure. “Third place in novice extemporaneous speaking, from Cary Academy, Ben Lipson.” I floated up to the stage with a beaming smile, my teammates cheering me on. Despite knowing that I still had a long way to go, the pride I obtained through that first accomplishment, regardless of how minor it was, motivated me to compete more.

I love competition. I grew up constantly wanting to play sports, board games, video games, card games- essentially anything you can think of. Initially, when I went to tournaments, it was this thrill of competition that drove me. I worked hard, spending hours upon hours preparing for tournaments, and saw modest success. But it wasn’t until my summers at GMIF and CBI and the following years that I truly understood why speech and debate is so special. During my freshman year, primarily competing at local competitions filled with novices and not engaging with others outside of round, I didn’t really realize why so many people committed so much time to speech and debate. However, when I attended camp, surrounded by so many talented, passionate people, my perspective transformed. I realized that people don’t necessarily just participate in this activity because they enjoy competing or because they enjoy winning, but because they truly want to make a difference in their communities. They understand that the skills they gain are crucial to change the world, and that the various topics addressed in their event- whether it be extemp, congress, LD, PF, or one of the many speech events- truly matter.

One of the most impressive things I see in the speech and debate community is people backing up the words they speak with meaningful action. It’s pretty easy to just talk about voting rights or inequalities in education or school safety. In events like congress, I have constantly heard rhetoric about not allowing historical and contemporary marginalization of minorities to perpetuate, about not allowing an individual’s family income to determine their educational opportunities, and about not allowing school grounds to become burial grounds. But no matter how sophisticated much of the rhetoric heard in rounds may be, what impresses me most is how people turn their rhetoric into reality. From the numerous individuals working on political campaigns, to the many people starting non-profit organizations to boost political literacy and activism rates, to the unprecedented movement of solidarity and ensuing call to action following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, there have been countless times where I have seen rhetoric and words propel into something impactful.

To all current speech and debate competitors and alumnus, please allow the speeches you have heard and the disadvantages you have learned about people facing motivate you to work for those people. Giving a speech to judges and fellow competitors is wonderful, but finding opportunities giving inspiring speeches to others is even more critical to ensure further awareness within the many communities you belong in. Engage in volunteer work with a non-profit aimed at benefiting the populations you speak for in round. To people who haven’t participated in forensics, please do all you can to take part in it or to find similar opportunities engaging more with and learning more about the world around you. You will not regret it.

As my high school speech and debate career has come to a close, although my competitive nature has lived on, I have realized that trophies aren’t the priority. I have forgotten about many of the individual tournaments I have competed in, about individual speeches I have given, even about individual successes and failures. But as my life progresses, I will never forget the friends I have made- the intensely passionate, compassionate, inspiring people who I know will do whatever it takes to create tangible, sensational change in the future.

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

It Wasn’t About My Record-Crystal Xue

One summer evening, a large banner dropped in Birmingham, Alabama and my world should have changed, but it didn’t. For months, I had worked for the opportunity to advance to the quarterfinal round of United States Extemporaneous Speaking at Nationals and that night, I learned that I did. Now, don’t get me wrong, there were definitely moments of celebration that night, but I remained the same speaker, the same extemper, and the same person I had been that morning. Although I continued to strive for competitive success in speech, my focus by then had transitioned to coaching and advocacy.

At this point, it seems a bit of context is needed. Growing up, I was an extremely talkative child who almost never ran out of things to say. My sister even joked that if she ever wanted to avoid awkward silences at a function, she could simply haul me along and allow me to yap away. Therefore, when I started middle school, I immediately joined the speech team. And I had a blast; I competed in everything from humor (where I quickly learned interpretive events were not my forte) to extemporaneous speaking. I was successful, had an awesome coach, and loved my fantastic teammates. Perhaps even more importantly, I morphed from a young girl who spouted practically gibberish into a teenager who was confident and skilled enough to deliver meaningful (at least in the context of a middle school student) arguments. Heartened by joyous experiences and progress, I entered 9th grade with my heart set on continuing my competitive career.

The first thing that I quickly realized freshman year was that things were a lot more competitive. For example, I experienced a bit of a rude awakening when I realized my casual perusal of news sites in middle school paled in comparison to the methodical filing my fellow extempers did to prepare for tournaments. So, during sophomore and junior year, I turned the heat up; I went away to summer forensics institutes (which by the way, are so, so much fun), began working with one of the best college coaches in the nation, and practiced, practiced, and practiced. In time, I improved; my delivery became much more powerful, I learned to analyze, and I became more confident, eloquent, and empowered than I had ever been before. As a byproduct, I also found success on my local circuit and much more modest success on the national circuit. In addition to competing, I also spent time reflecting on my progress; I judged and coached at the middle school level. I realized, as I saw a young speaker light up after nailing her introduction, that the communication skills I had gained meant so much more than my competitive record ever would or could. It was then that I discovered my passion for increasing social mobility in marginalized populations through speech and debate education.

You see, as a first-generation American and child of two immigrants, I was an eyewitness to the professional development delays communication barriers can cause. And although my parents were able to overcome most of these obstacles, my heart went out (and still goes out to) those communities (including my own) who historically remained underrepresented in leadership positions. Without opportunities to learn communication skills, these populations are unable to take credit for the work (and consequently, be recognized for their efforts) and receive opportunities to advance. Reinvigorated with a new mission, I began coaching underprivileged middle school students and became a Communications project coordinator at my local 4-H program. Although many of my competitors may never become national champions, I hope each and everyone of them has benefitted from the empowerment speech provides.

In a sea of ridiculously accomplished speakers (such as the founder of this very initiative), my competitive record hardly breaks the surface. Yet in another way, my experiences in speech and debate have left a profound legacy. For me personally, speech empowered me and turned me into the individual I am today. The overwhelming majority of opportunities I have received have been connected in some way to my ability to communicate. And for that, I will be forever grateful. But perhaps even more importantly, speech gave me a mission. A mission that I will take with me as I transition to college. A mission that inspires me to my core. A mission that has changed my life. 

Seven Minutes to Change the World-Anoova Guthikonda

Over the last 4 years, my experiences competing in Extemp have profoundly influenced my life and my view of the world. I entered freshman year with a confused, unclear vision of what i wanted to focus on in the years to come. I didn’t have many friends going in, and I prided myself in my incredible talent to be the most anti-social person in the school. But when my best friend spent a few hours detailing her exciting experiences in this odd, nerdy club called Speech and Debate, I decided to give it a try. Nothing to lose, right?

From the moment I attended the first club meeting, I felt a sense of belonging I had never experienced before. A lot of these people had never met me before, and as a result they had no preconceptions about me. As a result, I felt freer and more comfortable to open up to them and reinvent myself into someone more open and expressive, someone who was more comfortable in their own skin.

After three years of preparing and competing in speech and debate tournaments around the country, I thought I’d become immune to the stress that piles on before round 1, but the reality has been FAR from my expectation. As you all know, extemporaneous speaking revolves around analyzing current events to answer questions like “Has Turkey’s democratic transition been successful?” and “How can the UN end Myanmar’s refugee crisis?” Consequently, I am engaged in a persistent race to keep pace with the news. But the stress and ceaseless preparation has conditioned me to become an inquisitive, critical thinker. When I delivered my very first speech, I was filled with an adrenaline rush similar to that of a roller coaster ride. Becoming aware of my power to engage the room during my performance inspired me to begin meticulously dissecting my speeches and presentation skills, from altering my hand gestures to improving the variations in my vocal inflection.

When I first began Extemporaneous Speaking, I was thrown into a whirlpool of information about the world that stimulated new intellectual curiosity and social awareness. I began to understand the world in a lens beyond what is taught in high school textbooks. Analyzing the causes behind political fallouts and the impacts of economic policies taught me to evaluate my community on a global scale and inspired me to learn about issues beyond the incentive to succeed in the event. My passion to read and explore, coupled with the profound knowledge base I continue to gain not only inspires me to continue learning about the world around me but to also discover my role in it.

Through numerous intellectually stimulating conversations with my coaches and teammates, I realized that many may skim headlines about the government’s new policies or how the economy is faring, but few understand how those headlines directly impact their lives and societies. Speech and debate offers a literal platform for me to expound upon current events and teach my audience about issues they may otherwise not be exposed to. With seven minutes and a single question, I had the opportunity expand their view of our world outside their everyday lives. With seven minutes, I had the opportunity to engage them in a compelling description of how a distant country can have a direct impact on their lives.

To this day, every round of competition I enter fills me with the same adrenaline rush I had felt in that small classroom at my very first tournament. Now, I have one tournament left, and with the ability to speak and the opportunity to be heard, I can either talk until I exhaust my time, or use every second to express my thoughts and change the way my audience views their world. Seven minutes to make it count. Seven minutes to make a difference. I couldn’t be more excited.

Thought Bubble: Thank You, Mom

Yesterday, my mom and I trekked to Long Island for a niche debate invitational. Our day started at seven in the morning, and by the time it finished at 9:30 pm, I was passed out in the back of the car. What I did not really think of, though, was that my mother, who had spent the whole day judging a wholly new debate style, never complained, stopped to rest, or focused the attention on anything besides my competitive needs. After all, she has morphed into a true “speech mom.” In three years, my mother has been an ever-present ally in my career, and for many of my competitors, I know the same is true. Our parents don’t always understand why we get up early on Saturdays for tournaments or what we spend hours prepping for, but they tirelessly invest money, energy, and patience into helping us grow as competitors and people. 

To all the parents that judge, organize, and support forensics, I want to extend a teachspeech thank you to you. You are the brave academic warriors that make sure our students have a voice in and out of the classroom. You are the well-meaning nurturers who allow your children to compete and struggle in this activity and celebrate that first break and first place when all of their struggles pay off. You are the chauffeurs, the therapists, and the coaches that never get paid, but still continue to work. So, for all the thankless tasks that you’ve done to support your child, thank you. You have a place in this community, and forensics would not be even half the activity it is without you. 

Thought Bubble: An Open Letter to Judges

Dear Judge,

           When I say, “thank you for judging,” at the end of a round, I really do mean it. I know for an adult, listening to suited high schoolers ramble on about issues that don’t directly concern you probably isn’t at the top of your priority list. I know that you probably wish you had just paid the $100 fee to avoid judging. Unfortunately, you didn’t pay that fee, and now, you have to devote a day to sitting in an ill-fitting desk, filling out multicolored ballots: please, save your excitement. Now that your fantasies for escape are impossible, let’s address actual judging. Judging is the most fundamental metric of speech & debate: your presence and your beliefs not only impact the specific speaker and round that you listen to but the trajectory of those speakers and of that event. Your decision to judge and imbibe in a free coffee from the judge’s lounge can be a watershed moment for a speaker that’s in desperate need for a good ballot or a supportive critique. Yet, a bad ballot can be the detriment to someone’s fragile confidence or burgeoning career. Frankly, bad ballots suck, but sometimes, you, who spends only one or two days a year in this activity, do not realize what a bad ballot is. So, please, judge, allow me to give you four pointers on what makes a bad ballot and how you can avoid it.

  1. Speech and debate is principally a speech competition, not a fashion show (even though the power suit runway can be pretty fierce). Please do not comment on competitors’ appearances or clothing choices. In seven minutes, you do not learn a speaker’s background: their socioeconomic or cultural status. Due to financial constraints, religious observances, or personal choice, they may not conform to the customary black suits or formal dresses. Not only should you separate this from your ranking, but judge, please be considerate to make comments about the contestants. There’s no worse feeling than reading that a judge cared more about your “loud tie” or “ill-fitting jacket” than the content of a speech that a contestant spent hours preparing for, practicing and delivering.
  2. Just because we do not want to be critiqued for the superficial does not mean that ballots should be only positive comments. Earlier this week, I had the pleasure to receive my first “great job, tough round…6” ballot. This archetypal ballot comes from judges who refuse to offer areas of constructive feedback or justifications for their ranking. I understand the recalcitrance that can come from judges: you do not want to make a fragile teen feel that their speech was irreconcilably bad or choppy. On the contrary, I do promise that speakers will be even more wrenched when a judge offers no justification or room for improvement for eliminating them from competition. There’s a balance between profanely attacking a competitor and offering them a learning experience: always choose the latter. 
  3. Speech and debate can be a pretty #woque community, but as a judge, you have a responsibility to be an impartial arbiter and analyst of rhetorical communication and argumentation. While you might not agree with the message or ideology that underpins a piece, a speech, or a constructive argument, that should not sway your ranking away from the student, notwithstanding strong argumentation and presentation. Obviously, do not rank a poorly argued, controversial argument well for fear of angering the political dynamics of the community. Still, it’s unfair to under-rank a strongly right leaning or left leaning student to remain “neutral” when they can effectively communicate their message. Balance comes from putting the technical elements of speech first and the ideology behind that speech second.
  4. Don’t be afraid to learn. During every local, my mother gets assigned to judge Congressional Debate, and fittingly, during every local, my mother refuses her assignment to judge Congressional Debate. That was, until the last local before the state championship. For once, my coach did not take “no,” with a smile and decided to politely drag her into observing the first half of a congress chamber. Much like an episode of The Bachelor, she fell in love. My mother began to understand Congress beyond the epithet of it being “long, boring, and painful to judge.” Everything from interpretation to debate can be frightful, judge, but please, take the opportunity to learn about these events. Not only does it make your experience less painful at a tournament, but it offers the students a ballot that comes from a more experienced and knowledgeable judge. 

         Judge, if you have not already clicked away from this article, I want to thank you for reading. The ballots that I have received in this activity have introduced me to communication strategies and interesting viewpoints that I did not know even existed. But some ballots are really, really, really bad. As I review the incredibly iconic compendium of curt, (in)coherent, and capricious ballots (see some at http://ballotfails.tumblr.com/), I lose a little hope for this activity. I promise that your Saturday is valid, but only if you offer a concerted effort into improving the quality of speeches and rounds that you watch. After all, you probably want to avoid the reputation of “Great person….bad ballots…6”.

With love,

Christopher Maximos (and every other forensics competitor)

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.

Get Up and Speak-Isabel Lai

Hi, my name is Isabel Lai. I’m a senior at Central High School in Springfield, Missouri and I’m in speech and debate. Being a senior is a curious thing — as I prepare to leave this town that I’ve always lived in and leave this school that I’ve attended for 7 years, I’ve started to think a lot about how my experiences have shaped who I am.

It might sound like one, but it is not an exaggeration to say that speech and debate has changed my life completely, in ways that I never could have imagined — that’s why I think it’s so important that everyone try it out. There’s no telling what you might find.

First of all, I want to emphasize that the benefits to speech and debate aren’t just there for the state champions or national finalists. I think that it’s hard to get out of this mindset, especially when the nature of the event is so competitive, but I truly believe that no matter what your final ranking or your win-loss record, speech and debate is an event that is uniquely beneficial for everyone.

In middle school, I wasn’t the kind of person you’d expect to be a debater. I liked doing math competitions more than I liked talking, and I preferred reading a book by myself over anything else. My parents weren’t famous speakers or politicians or anything; in fact, English was their second language. Despite this, or maybe because of it, my dad was the one that forced me — quite literally through tears — to go to my first year of speech and debate. At the time, I would have rather taken any other class.

What I didn’t realize at the time was how valuable those experiences would be and how much I would grow to love speech and debate. The first thing it did was the most obvious: it helped me learn to communicate.

I don’t know about you, but for me, the idea of speaking in front of people I knew was much more terrifying than speaking in front of complete strangers. That’s something special about speech and debate that I think allowed me to flourish: I could go into the room, completely bomb, and those judges would never see me again. Because of this, I used my novice year to fearlessly try new things and grow into my voice. Thanks to that, I was eventually able to confidently speak my mind in front of anyone, whether I knew them or not.

This is really, really important. If you’re like me, you have no clue what you want to do when you grow up. But no matter what you decide to do, you have to know how to properly communicate your ideas with confidence. Being able to find my voice, to witness my words create change, is something that I will cherish and use for the rest of my life.

There’s no doubt in my mind that I am who I am today because of the tournaments I’ve been to and the people I’ve met there. I have one tournament left, and you better believe that I’m going to make it my best one yet — if you’re lucky enough to have more, take advantage of every moment for those of us that have run out! Because a tournament isn’t just a tool that helps you communicate — as I near the end of my speech and debate career, I have finally started to realize the extent of what I owe to speech and debate.

Speech and debate has given me countless things in addition to just being able to talk: best friends, a personal philosophy, people to look up to, knowledge, research skills, the ability to speak with only three hours of sleep, a mentor and even an admission to college (when I got my letter, my admissions officer had written a small, handwritten note to me at the end: “I was so impressed by your dedication to debate and hope you’ll choose to join our class of 2022!”).

Losing round after round has given me the grit to keep tackling a problem until I make success happen. Doing research on two sides of a resolution has reminded me to stay open-minded and consider every person’s opinion. Working and laughing together with my team to find evidence and run tournaments has shown me the value of trusting others to create something larger than yourself. Befriending opponents from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. has taught me that friendship and respect for other people are much more important than winning a trophy.

We are each given a voice to change the world. If I hadn’t been forced to try speech and debate just once, I wouldn’t have found mine. Your voice is right there, too, waiting for you to find it. All you have to do is get up and speak.

Duoing Her Best-Bryn Bennett

The summer before my freshman year, my older brother Aaron approached me with an idea: a brother-sister duo. After three years of dabbling in middle school speech and debate, I fully intended on joining my high school’s team, and thought the idea was a brilliant one. I accepted his invitation with great enthusiasm and we began looking for novels that would play to our strengths, eventually deciding upon A Wrinkle in Time. Aaron, an already established senior competitor, had a lot riding on him for what was to be his final speech season. He had goals to achieve and places he wanted to go. I later learned that many of his peers doubted his decision, thinking he was crazy for risking it all by partnering with his freshman sister; but he trusted his gut and knew that together we would have a special chemistry. We began our season with wavering success, but quickly gained speed, making semifinals at the Harvard Invitational, winning our state championship and qualifying to both NCFL and NSDA Nationals. I was thrown into a chaotic world of suits and heels -- and I loved every second of it!

At the end of our season, my brother and I parted ways and he ventured off to Georgetown University, satisfied with the success we were able to gather in his final year of high school speech and debate. However, I was left behind to navigate the deep end of this pool that I was tossed into without first learning how to swim. As my sophomore year began, I did my best to keep up the stamina from last year, but I quickly realized that it wasn’t going to be as cut and dry as A Wrinkle in Time had been. Through a few ups, many downs and a ton of disappointments, I learned the most important lessons that speech has taught me: how to lose graciously and how to stand back up when you’ve been knocked down. Before, I spent a lot of time worrying about keeping up with my older brother’s quick pace and drive for success. I found myself focusing on what happens at the end of the tournament, rather than everything that leads up to it. I quickly learned that this is not a healthy way to motivate yourself. Once I was alone, I realized that the best thing to do is to focus on one round at a time. Accepting this message has helped me achieve all that I have in my junior and senior seasons.

Regardless, I wouldn’t change a thing about the past four years. Starting my high school speech career with such a successful freshman year was a bit intimidating, but it also helps remind me that nothing comes effortlessly and that you must work hard, practice often and care about the things that you do. Speech has taught me to respect others and myself. It has taught me how to share my ideas and teach those around me. It has taught me how to portray messages effectively and accurately. And most importantly, this speech has taught me that it’s okay to take a lap back to the shallow end of the pool before venturing back out into the depths once again.

Persistence to Prosperity-Vishal Sundaram

If anyone had told me three years ago that I would be writing a nostalgic piece speaking fondly of my speech and debate journey, I probably would have told them that they were utterly delusional. If anyone had told me a year before that that I would even be embarking upon said journey, I would’ve told them that they had the wrong guy. As a freshman in high school, I was only vaguely aware of the existence of this strange program known as “speech and debate”. Now sitting in my dorm writing this piece as a freshman in college, I can’t imagine a life without it.

I tried out for Solon High School’s speech and debate team as a sophomore upon the recommendation of an upperclassman in my world history class who suggested that I consider a rather peculiar event known as “extemp”. While ignorant to all current events, unfamiliar with politics, and unable to tie a tie, I was sold – for this event required no memorization prior to competition! How hard could it possibly be?

 After making the team, I quickly learned that I could not have been more wrong. When given the daunting task of preparing a speech to present at one of our first practices, I found that the allotted 30 minutes was hardly enough time for me to gather my thoughts, let alone to prepare and memorize a 7-minute argument. Alone, nervous, and vulnerable at the front of the library conference room, I proceeded to deliver the incoherent mess that was meant to pass as a my first extemp “speech”.  

Seeing as that experience was only practice, I could not even begin to imagine what competition would be like. As such, I took what seemed to me at the time to be the only logical option – to quit speech and debate entirely. I emailed my coach, requested a full refund of my club dues, and announced my withdrawal from the activity that I had been a part of for hardly a month. Case closed. 

Lucky for me at the time, my coach was occupied with other commitments (this is perhaps the only time in my life that I will appreciate jury duty) and was unable to fulfill my request right away. In the interim, I pondered some more and eventually decided that my decision was rash. I wanted to give speech and debate another chance, but perhaps in an event – any event – other than extemp. 

With this decision began my one-year stint with Congressional Debate – an event that shared some elements with extemp but allowed me to use my legal pad as a crutch. While I saw mild local success, a key element was missing my entire sophomore season: I was not having fun. I felt pressured, writing speeches Friday night before tournaments, felt constrained by the brevity of speeches, and felt drowned in the nuances of parliamentary procedures and tournament politics. While I developed valuable skills in speaking and argumentation, I could see that a change was needed. After one year of unfulfilling competition, I decided to give extemp another try.

While some may (accurately) label my 10th grade decisions as overly impulsive and dramatic, my experience in congress allowed me to return to extemp with more knowledge, skills, and – most importantly – confidence. Newly equipped, I forced myself through my first local tournament and was pleasantly surprised with my 6th place performance. Beyond the outcome, I also found that, for the first time in a year, I had genuinely enjoyed the thrill of competition. A spark within had finally ignited my passion and as I put more in, I saw evidence that I was getting more out.

My journey from that point forward was largely a blur and just 2 years later, I found myself speaking in the 2017 U.S. Extemp National Final Round in Birmingham, Alabama. I had gone from the sophomore too nervous to speak at the front of the library conference room, to the senior presenting (mostly) confidently to a live audience on one of the largest stages that speech and debate has to offer. While proud of this destination, I can confidently say that my fondest memories and most valuable experiences in speech and debate are from the journey linking these two extremes. What started as a trivial after school commitment became what was arguably the defining aspect of my high school experience. It taught me the importance of persistence in the face of daunting challenges. It broadened my perspective on the world, making me a better-informed member of society, while adding to my rather one-dimensional STEM-focused academic interests areas such as political science, writing, economics, and popular culture. And yet even as speech and debate allowed me to develop such lifelong skills and attributes, its most important gifts to me were the people I met and the memories that I made. It introduced me to the people that would become my second family and gave me mentors and coaches who have helped me to become the person I am today. Even if I lost everything else that speech and debate gave me, retaining these relationships and memories would be enough to have made it all worth it.  

Having recounted my own speech and debate experience, I would like to offer a few words of advice to current competitors: 1) Persist. While trite, it can go a long way. Have faith in your abilities and do not be quick to abandon your goals. 2) Invest. Find what you are passionate about and go all in – you will be pleasantly surprised to find the difference that a little enthusiasm can make. 3) Cherish. Time does indeed fly when you’re having fun, and speech and debate is no different. Enjoy every minute of the ride, for you will miss it once it’s over – I know that I do and that I always will. 

An Outlet for Intellect-Jack Yan

Nearly 5 years ago I walked into my first speech and debate meeting. At the budding age of 13, my world consisted of video games and basketball. I was a shy child, unsure of myself and unaware of the possibilities that Speech and Debate would bring to me in the next 4 years. At that first meeting, I nearly turned away. With blatant apathy, I decided to stick it out.

Throughout the next four years Speech was formative to my personhood. I lacked little natural talent or the charisma that I would grow to rely on in competition. It took over 3 years in the activity for me to reach a competitively competent level. Throughout that time, I wondered why I would invest thousands of hours in practice and travel thousands of miles to never break out of prelims. Seeing friends and teammates achieve early success led me to question whether this activity was truly for me.

I’m glad I stayed. Throughout all the hours spent practicing, I was growing as a person. Speaking in front of random strangers gave me newfound self-confidence. Research exposed me to communities far away from my own, developing within me a compassion for the world’s tribulations. Obviously, as I gained experience, I was rewarded competitively. But the joy of competitive success is ephemeral.

As trophies collected on my shelf, breaking and awards felt negligible. But at that point, Speech had become a routine. Daily practices and filing throughout the week to be capped off with competition on the weekend, ending with a shiny piece of plastic. At that point, my speeches became formulaic. Rarely did I stray from the tried and true methods that had won me trophies in the past. During round, I went into autopilot, only passively engaging in what I was doing. Once again, I wondered why I stayed in this activity, only now for a new reason.

By my senior year, burnout from Speech became palpable. The work that I had put in now felt like a grind rather than a hobby that I could grow from. As I arrived to the last few tournaments of my 5-year career, a change in outlook was sparked. For the longest time, I felt that few of my natural talents would ever translate over into Speech. I had bleached my own personality from my speeches. I stopped caring about breaks and trophies. I had just a few rounds left in my career and I finally started speaking for myself. In crafting my speeches, if something wasn’t fun for me it wasn’t included in my speeches.

Those final few months were the most fun I had in my 5 years of Speech. I learned two things: that people of all talents have a place in this activity and that speech is a source of growth for everyone who participates in it. Now, just a year removed from the activity, I am doing things that would be unimaginable to the 13-year-old boy that nearly turned away from Speech. Speech gave me self-confidence to challenge myself to do the impossible. Speech gave me failures to teach me grit and self-determination. Speech gave me passion to channel my resolve. For all of this, I’m glad that tween me decided to stay.

Thought Bubble: A Plea for Friendship

During my sophomore year at the Glenbrooks, I arrived just a tad late to the prep room. Shuffling to a solitary couch where everyone seemed to be having conversations, I felt so utterly alone. Why did I bother flying across the country when I barely knew what I was doing, let alone anyone I was doing it with. By the end of the first night, as I shoved down a plate of cold fried rice, a group of circuit extempers turned to me, asked me my name and invited me to join their conversation with no reason to do so. These people whom I obviously admired and had learned from became fast friends, as we bonded over California Pizza Kitchen and reality television. Even though I left the tournament with unsatisfying results, I was so excited to share the season with “speech friends” and enjoy tournaments for more than trophies.

Almost 365 days later, I saw myself in almost the same situation at the same tournament. I found a new sophomore, who was similarly alone and similarly unhappy. As I brought her into our seemingly benign conversation, I understood the incredible effects this one invitation could have. My year and arguably, my entire career was changed with that one day at the Glenbrooks, as a circle of friends validates one’s competitive experience and even personal development. When you see the freshman in an ill-fitting suit or the sophomore having a panic attack over their speech, please put your circuit pedigree and teen angst aside and reach out. It may be awkward or seem unnecessary, but those small moments can change a competitor’s day, career, or life. 

Giving a Storyteller his Audience-Aaron Bennett

I'm a storyteller - always have been, always will be. From age three, I would dream up and perform elaborate shows for family. When my sister came of age to walk and talk, we would make pretend TV shows and Broadway plays. With a guitar and keyboard, I penned nonsense ballads. In sixth grade, I started auditioning for shows at our local community theatre. And freshman year, I dove head-first into Speech.

I loved every minute of my Speech career. I focused mainly on story-heavy events - Prose, DI, and Duo - as well as the argument-heavy events like Poetry and OO. What was unique about Speech was that I got my hands over all steps of the creative process. Instead of improvising storylines in my basement, I molded full-fledged ten-minute plots from complex literature. Instead of following a director's instructions, I envisioned and blocked and scripted and cut and rehearsed again and again. Instead of blindly performing, I breathed life and meaning into my pieces, employing them to comment on subjects deeply personal.

In short, Speech gave my storytelling passion and purpose.

And it's that lesson that I carry forward most from my high school Speech career: how to effectively employ a narrative. This skill is extraordinarily applicable and highly valued in college and beyond - especially in a field like politics and government.

Since graduating high school, I've gravitated toward the political world. Going to school in DC, I've had innumerable opportunities to apply what I learned about storytelling from Speech. I've helped a number of organizations improve their brand by underpinning an authentic, engaging narrative behind the outward-facing image. This semester, I'm interning at a top political consulting firm, helping activist groups and candidates for office tell their stories in relatable and effective ways. Just last week, I managed a successful campaign for student body president and vice president on behalf two of my good friends - communicating their story in the context of common sentiments and conversations around campus.

The ability to craft a narrative - with a clear beginning, middle and end and a salient argument driving it - is a real-life skill Speech forces us to hone each and every day. Preparing our pieces, we are forced to ask ourselves: will this make sense? Is this supported by the literature? Is this something people want to hear? These questions drive the decisions we make in Speech - but also in life after as well. Because stories help us understand and make sense of the world around us, harnessing their awesome power is certainly a key for success in any sort of political, business or entertainment field.

I plan on using these building blocks of storytelling for the rest of my career. Looking forward, I hope to someday run communications on a presidential campaign and ideally manage communications in the White House. In those high-stakes roles, effective storytelling is critical - and I'm confident that what I learned in Speech will be with me along the entire journey.

A Stand-Up Speaker-Anna Landre

“My friends would call me a bit of a comedian …”

… is how I’d start my Original Oratory, looking out at the audience with a carefully crafted smile on my face. I’m used to people staring at me -- I mean, it’s only to be expected when you’re the only competitor who uses a wheelchair in the entirety of the New Jersey circuit -- so I know how to make each glance count for something.

“... I’d even tell you the joke about the girl in the wheelchair who walks into the bar,” I’d continue, looking out at them innocently.

And then, the punchline:

“... I just haven’t figured out the walking part yet!”

And that was the moment of truth. Either I’d get raucous, astonished laughter, or a sea of horrified faces, looking at the people next to them for some clue of how they should all react to this disabled girl who was joking about things she shouldn’t.

Either way, I’d continue to the next lines of my speech, working hard to persuade the audience of my thesis: that humor is an invaluable tool which we, as humans, can employ to bridge divides and overcome adversity.

Breaking into the world of Speech and Debate was no easy task for me. It’s an environment where presentation and appearance are everything; so looking and moving differently than everyone to whom you’re being compared is a distinct disadvantage.

Or so I thought for a long time. And I was correct, to a point. But there’s more to it than that. Every time you go up in front of that room, what people see is what you project. You define their view of you and you control what you let them see. Even if you’re having a rough week, you can go into a round and act like it’s the best day of your life -- no one will know differently, because they only have access to the parts of you that you show them. You’re in charge here, so always act like it.

Since leaving high school, this is the most valuable lesson I’ve taken with me, all thanks to Speech and Debate. Anyone who has experienced going to college or entering the workforce knows the value of self-confidence and how you project yourself. Self-image is a powerful thing, and even more so when you don’t look like everyone else.

Now, this isn’t to say that after only a few tournaments I became comfortable in my own skin and confident in my abilities. It took until halfway through my sophomore year to find my niche in Speech and finally start becoming successful, and I had to fight against a culture of Forensics’ ingrained ableism to do it. Many successful Interpers I met during my Speech years, all of them able-bodied, had reached finals by appropriating the stories of disabled people in their pieces, faking an eye twitch, or a speech impediment, or physical weakness in order to elicit an emotional response of pity or comic relief from the audience. If a white competitor had decided to act out the story of a black American, lamenting the horrors of police violence and racial discrimination as if it had affected them personally, there would have been uproar. But when able-bodied students use disabled people as props, shedding a tear for how difficult it is to have a learning disability or to be an amputee, they’re given trophies. This is something that cut like a knife every time I watched an Interp round, and in order to make Speech and Debate a truly inclusive place, it needs to change.

And of course, change like this starts with us. For as long as we’re in front of an audience, we control the narrative. After I left high school, I even learned that the audience isn’t just a group of people sitting in a room who have come there to watch a speech. Your audience, my audience, our audience is anyone we can get to listen, even those who don’t want to hear us yet.

By the end of my Speech and Debate career in Extemp, Impromptu, and Original Oratory, I had the privilege to semifinal at Princeton, quarterfinal at Harvard, and double-final in the New Jersey State Championships during both my junior and senior years. But those trophies aren’t what I’ll take with me through my coming years at Georgetown University or through my future career. What I carry each day, like any former Forensicator, is an innate sense of empowerment and motivation to share my voice with the world; and that’s a gift for which I’ll be forever grateful.

A Palliative Passion-James Dolan

My coach gives me a pep talk as I stand backstage in a packed auditorium waiting to perform at the National Catholic Forensic League’s semifinal round. My competition consists of the top eleven high school speakers in the nation. As I wait my turn to speak, I drift back in time to when other kids used to make fun of the way I spoke, when my evenings were filled with speech therapy classes, and the constant at-home exercises I would recite each night.

In elementary and middle school, my speech impediment seemed to be my defining characteristic. It was the first impression I left when I met people. Adults thought it was cute; children did not. My parents were told I had a “tongue thrust,” where almost every word containing the letter “s” or the digraph “th” sounded phonetically incorrect when I spoke, leaving me feeling alienated at school as I struggled to vocalize complete sentences. This seemingly intractable flaw felt like it would never be cured, until I discovered the art of forensics.

“Remember back to when you first started competing in forensics.”

My middle school English teacher urged me to join the school’s forensics team. Initially, I finished in last place at many local tournaments. The written critiques by these judges opened my eyes to how the world heard me. Judges often urged me to try other clubs. Thus, I worked as hard as I could to overcome my impediment. However, it was not incessant speech therapy that cured me; rather, it was the competition of public speaking.

“You have worked so hard to get here.”

After a year and a half of constant practicing, I competed at the state championship. At last, I did not struggle to speak correctly; it was as if I never had a speech defect. The daily practices and repetition of properly enunciating every word had slowly cured my speech impediment. As a result, I won the state championship in middle school and realized that I wanted to continue to participate in forensics at Delbarton. Finally, I wanted everyone to hear me.

The strict disciplines of public speaking have given me the opportunity to clearly refine my speaking abilities. I could now express my own ideas in a manner where people would actually want to hear what I had to say.

“You are one of the twelve remaining speakers in a field of over 300 competitors!”

Throughout high school, I spent many weekends competing at forensics tournaments and, to be honest, I would not have done it any differently. I woke up at 5:30 AM , dressed in a suit and tie, and traveled across the nation to compete. I embraced the art of public speaking and continue to recognize that it has transformed me into the person who I am today. Forensics has allowed me to find my voice and my identity, two aspects of myself that I struggled to find earlier in my life.

“Remember what we practiced: volume, enunciation, and composure.”

I am called to the stage. I take a deep breath and speak about the profound impact that a teacher can have on a child. I smile as I finish. I have found my passion - a passion that has cured me along the way.

The Inter-Workings of an Interper-Ariaki Dandawate

The night before Speech and Debate auditions during my freshman year of high school could have very easily been lost in my memory as just another raging argument with my parents. But as I recall my journey through Speech and the impact it has had on me, this argument continues to stand out as one of the most ‘game-changing’ conversations I’ve engaged in over the past 6 years of my life.

My mom had been telling me for weeks to audition for the team, and I, as stubborn as I am, was reluctant as ever to listen to what she had to say. I brought up excuses like: “My friends on the team are miserable” or “I don’t want to be a nerd.” Somewhere deep down, however, I knew the reason I didn’t want to audition was because I truly was an introvert. Walking into large rooms made my heart skip a beat and my stomach drop to the floor; talking to people was something I had to mentally prepare for at least an hour in advance. So, for me, the thought of speaking in front of that many people, put me in a position of vulnerability that I couldn’t even begin to imagine. Anyways, I ended up auditioning for the team  -- against my wishes -- and...I didn’t make it. On the outside, I took this defeat pretty well. But the stubbornness inside of me couldn’t stand losing, even if I didn’t even want to audition in the first place. From that point on, there was absolutely no looking back.

To tell you how much Speech has taught and changed me over the 3 years I was a part of it would take more than three pages (trust me, I had one written but decided not to bore you with it). I’ve made my closest friends through this activity, and most importantly have learned how to work towards my goals and improve from defeat. But, I’ll leave you with something that I really hope will make you realize how crucial it is for students to be a part of it.

The sophomore that joined the team and the senior who graduated are the same people, but different versions. I like to think that I always was capable of becoming the person that I am, but I didn’t necessarily have the ability until I joined speech. As I am writing this, I close my eyes and think of how I am now as a person -- I am analytical, creative, and I do whatever I set my mind on.

To master the art of interp takes a lot of thinking. To understand a character, their motivations, and their mannerisms is no easy task; it’s not something that is learned overnight, it’s something you have to live and breathe. One of my most memorable moments in speech was when I changed my piece the week before a major national tournament. In one week, I had to perform a piece that was so polar opposite from what I was used to. Having done two pieces that established myself as an external actor, I was being thrown into a piece where I had to portray a ton of internal conflict and emotion. The day before the tournament, I stood in my room alone, and stared at myself in the mirror. I did my climax once. Then twice. Three, four then five times. I just couldn't get the over-the-top expressive emotion that the character demanded. So, I threw myself onto the bed in exasperation, closed my eyes, and began to just ‘be’ the character. The next thing I knew, I was crying profusely while lying on the bed. That was my 'aha' moment. But it took so much for me to get to that emotional place, where I could allow myself to do that.

That was just a glimpse of the kind of roller coaster that each piece I performed took me on. But I fell in love with the idea of examining my characters so closely that I could become them, and I could use them as a vehicle to reach people with a message that was universal. During my senior year of high school I performed a piece on the under representation and misrepresentation of people of color in Hollywood. I remember that after my finals performance at Nationals, I got off the stage and someone came up to me and said “Thank you for telling that story.” And that’s when I fully understood the far-reaching impact of speech. Today, two years after graduating from speech and debate, I am a full time engineering student. But I find my outlets to continue to act and perform, and I couldn’t credit that to anything else but Speech and Debate.  

F-O-R-E-N-S-I-C-S-Clare Halsey

On October 3rd, 2012 at 3:07 PM, I made a Facebook status that said, “PRAISE THE
LORD!!! I MADE THE FORENSICS TEAM!!! Who else made it?!” Now, fourteen year old me
thought that I would just continue on in Declamation with the audition speech I used, “Tear
Down this Wall” by Ronald Reagan… Yeah, you could say that things didn’t go exactly as
planned. Although it has been over five years since I first made the Ridge Forensics team, I still
vividly remember mixing up Iraq and Iran in my first ever Extemp fluency drill and crying about
it on my way home! In fact, I was so embarrassed and overwhelmed by the demands of Extemp
that I wanted to quit after just the first week of practice. I did not quit, and I managed to make it
to my first ever tournament in Novice Extemp. While waiting for finals, I was so overwhelmed
with nerves that I felt physically ill and swore that I would never, ever put myself through such
horrendous torture again. I ended up getting second place alongside some of my now dear
friends, so I decided that perhaps I should stick with Extemp, and I am unfathomably glad that I
did. I make acronyms for absolutely everything, so it’s only fitting that I sum up some lessons I
learned in forensics with one.


Failure
 Pressure is an opportunity to succeed; you can either cave to pressure or step up to the
plate and amaze yourself and others at what you can do. While the latter is the ideal
situation, at some point, everyone, no matter how intelligent, talented, or hardworking
they are, is bound to have a humbling experience of failure. It’s important to remember
that failure is a mere lesson for the future, not a limit on the future. Tenacity aids you in
everything you do, and nothing is over until you stop trying.
Originality
 Of course, there are some rules you have to comply with, for example in Extemp, you
can’t (or, probably shouldn’t) do a 13 point, 20 minute speech, but when it comes to your
personal style or the combination of events you do, go beyond the cookie-cutter mold.
Make the event your own and let your personality shine through. Add your own unique
flair to everything you do.
Resilience
 Forensics is undoubtedly a mental game as you deal with obstacles that are tangibly in a
round or in your own brain. But not only does this activity require great mental and
emotional endurance, but physical as well! Probably none of you will take this advice,
but at a certain point, prepping super late into the night or early morning only hurts you,
so strive for 8 hours of sleep and always stay hydrated in order to perform your best.

Empathy
 Everyone knows what it’s like to feel as though you’ve hit a wall in terms of progress in
forensics, or to have your personal life inhibit your performance. While you may be on a
high, someone else is at a low. It seems so obvious, but it very often gets lost in an extremely competitive environment. Be kind to everyone you meet, even if they don’t
seem to give you a reason to.
Nobility
 Nobility doesn’t lie in being better than your peers; it lies in being better than your
previous self. Strive to become a fiercer competitor and a kinder friend.
Stress
 Stress management is arguably one of the most important skills that forensics teaches
you. However, there is a catch with forensics desensitizing you to stress; when you are in
college and have very important presentations for either academic or professional
purposes, don’t tell yourself, “Whatever, I’ll just extemp it.” (Well, not all the time.)
Interdependence & Independence
 We rely on each other for moral support and critique, yet oftentimes we are our own best
teachers. Strike a balance between doing things for others and for yourself. When you are
a healthier, stronger individual, you are better equipped to aid those around you.
Culture
 The atmosphere in the prep room (or outside any round for the non-Extemp folks out
there) that’s just arbitrarily floating around and something we don’t have control over.
Everyone contributes to the culture of this activity, in a positive or negative way. The
choice is yours. If you don’t like the way the forensics community is headed at any given
point, you have the power to fix it. Your voice is powerful and impactful. Don’t let
complacency crowd your judgment and your ability to truly make a difference in not only
the current generation of people around you, but future ones. It is in your hands to take
care of your fellow forensicators and ensure that everyone can have an awe-inspiring
experience in this activity.
Success
 Competitive success is an amazing feeling; it’s a huge confidence boost and a sign that
your work pays off, but it’s not the only type of success. Success can come in many
forms: it can be when you survive outside your comfort zone, find joy in helping a
teammate, and at the end of the day, surprise yourself with how you blew away your own
expectations. You will find much more personal satisfaction if you focus on your growth
as a speaker rather than solely pining away for trophies.


To everyone still competing in high school forensics, do not wish any moment of
it away – even the exhausting, heartbreaking ones that make you question your
involvement in this activity. Do everything with conviction. Make every speech, every
argument, every round count, for you truly don’t know if you will get such an
opportunity again. When you do finish your forensics career, you will carry with you the
skills you developed and the dear friends you made along the way; these are the things
that truly matter. We are all so blessed to have the opportunity to make our voices heard,
and it is our job to make sure we use our voices to make a truly positive, meaningful
impact on the world around us.

A Helping Hand-Rachel Loia

   My first taste of speech and debate, referred to as forensics at the time, was during a school assembly my freshman year of high school. I sat in the audience and watched in amazement as a senior brought to life the most beautiful prose I have seen to date. At the time, I was clueless as to what she was doing, and really just watched because it was captivating in ways I couldn’t even begin to explain. While I really loved what I had seen, that year I was consumed with crippling anxiety so bad that by the end of the day I had forgotten all about the girl in the suit, telling a story using just a black binder and her voice.

Quite honestly, I hadn’t remembered that first encounter with the activity up until I started brainstorming ideas for this exact piece. Now you’re probably wondering how I did eventually end up getting into speech and debate. I’d like to say that I went to that first meeting on my own accord, but alas, that is not the case. My best friends at the time, Kara and Emily, begged me to go in attempts to up the membership in the club. After dazzling me with glorious descriptions, I decided to attend a meeting. It’s odd to claim that that one day changed the entire course of my life, but it did.

I had three amazing years on the team.

You know, you only get a limited number of years doing speech and debate. You don’t fully realize the weight of this looming fact until you’re on the bus heading home from the last tournament with the people you’ve come to consider family. It's this gut wrenching moment when you feel like you didn't get enough time...almost like you've been robbed of something. And then all of a sudden you hear the laughter from previous bus rides, you see images in your head of your favorite pieces and all of your friends, you relive the memories that will one day be hard to remember.

         Now, I fondly look back on those memories. They remind me that I did the impossible. At one time, I was failing out of school, had no friends, and lacked any promise for a future that was worth living. I was so afraid to live my life. But then, I got up to the front of the classroom for my first round, felt my body shake with nerves, took a deep breath, and began talking. I put my entire being into my words: my emotions, my stress, my confidence, my happiness. And things changed.

That round was the first time I used my voice. Standing up there showed me that my strength exceeded my own knowledge and I slowly became the person I had always wanted to be. From that one exhilarating moment, I had a reason to keep fighting. I wanted to be apart of this activity.

The form of myself that I had lost in the midst of anxiety and depression was now loud and being pulled from within the pit of my stomach. I was finally free.

         When I qualified for CFL Nationals my senior year of high school, I was scared. It was on the other side of the country, all the way in Sacramento, California. From New Jersey, it was far, and I had a hard time travelling. When the time came, I really considered my options. I could have stayed home in the comfort of my home, or I could push myself and participate in something I had worked for. I made a scary choice. In late May, I got on a plane, and I went.

         The trip was amazing, and really made me feel alive, but the most special part happened when we had landed back home. I remember standing outside the airport with my coach and four teammates, clutching my phone to my chest as my headphones blared “Unsteady” by X Ambassadors. It was nighttime, and the airport had this weird yellow glow to it. I was tired from the flight and a little shaky on my feet, but I had never felt stronger. Tears started to roll down my cheeks at that point. I had gone from not leaving my bedroom freshman year of high school, to flying across the United States of America so I could get up in front of people and speak. In that moment, I wholeheartedly believed in myself.

         Now I’m in college, and while my anxiety and depression aren’t gone, I still believe in who I have become. I know that while I’m scared, and sad, there is still a life to be lived. Speech and debate gave me that confidence, and the self awareness to know it to be true. Without it, I would not have a voice, and without a voice, who really would I be?