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It was a less-than-exciting afternoon in the waning days of junior year when the mess began. My name, along with the names of two other speech and debate officers, was called over the intercom. We were wanted in the principal’s office immediately. As the policy captain of our speech and debate team, I was confused as to the reason, but nevertheless entered Principal Kew’s sparsely decorated office and took a seat. The reason for the meeting was soon apparent: the administration had learned our plans to establish a speech and debate camp that upcoming summer and considered it a liability hazard to the school. Therefore, the club would be suspended for the following year, with all club assets frozen. I balked. What liability? The summer debate camp, although independent and entirely student-run in actuality, might be seen as affiliated with the school because of its name. My fellow officers and I had spent months organizing this camp, hiring instructors, finding a suitable location, advertising to dozens of schools, and filling out paperwork. Principal Kew, however, seemed to think that these accomplishments were dispensable, and thus decided to wash them away in the span of an hour. We tried to reason with him: couldn’t we just shut down the camp and continue the club? No, the club had inadequately completed some newly required forms, and had also taken some shortcuts by not asking permission for fundraisers. Principal Kew remarked that he hoped a one-year suspension would teach the club to follow the rules.
Unfortunately for Principal Kew, he had chosen to start an argument with a group of students who argued their way into the league championships. Despite my approaching AP exams, school responsibilities, and obligations to the golf team, I came back week after week to meet with him to explore alternative options. A suspension of the club would have devastating consequences for the debate careers of over a hundred debaters. I also felt a tinge of remorse as I selfishly thought of my own debate career and how much I would miss the national tournaments that had formed such a significant part of my life for the past three years. For the first time, I was not only directly confronting school officials, but I was actually fighting for a cause which directly impacted my life and the lives of my peers. Each meeting proved frustrating, however, as the principal always found some form we had not turned in or some deadline we had not met. A few weeks later it seemed as if my options had run out.
However, experience as debate captain and participation in school activities, has taught me that even the most bureaucratic obstacles can be overcome with persistence. After two weeks of pondering over the possible paths the officers and I could take, we decided to present to the administration with a solution: we would have students compete at tournaments as independent debaters officially unaffiliated with our school. I presented the speech I had prepared requesting the principal’s approval of my solution, and for the first time since the beginning of this dispute, I sensed a willingness to compromise from Principal Kew. After extensive assurance that I would keep the administration informed of all further proceedings, the principal agreed to my terms. This outcome was far less satisfactory than my initial hope for a functional club funded by a summer camp, but my primary goal of giving students the opportunity to debate had been accomplished. Although we would just be a dedicated group of students rather than an actual club, my efforts had paid off.
In fighting, reasoning, and eventually, compromising with Principal Kew, I have learned that even the most formidable of obstacles can be overcome with calmness and determination. Even now, I have a long journey ahead of me to find a means of acquiring funds to pay for tournaments without school funding, but my refusal to give up thus far allows me to remain optimistic.
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