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I have no idea why freshman me signed up for debate. However, I marked a check next to “DEBATE1” on my tentative schedule because it seemed like the thing nerdy kids do and I most definitely am a nerdy kid. My first time competing at a debate tournament was an absolute disaster. I decided to take the lesser known ‘interp’ route of high school speech and debate competitions. I prepared a monologue from one of my favorite novels, ‘Anne of Green Gables’, as my Dramatic Interpretation (or DI) piece. Little did I know how dramatic DI pieces really were. While I took “dramatic” in the context of being in a play or theatrical, “dramatic” in DI means more like crying your heart out in front of a room full of strangers. In fact, speech and debaters like to jokingly pronounce DI as “die” in reference to how prevalent the theme of death is. Not only did I feel embarrassed by the inappropriateness of my piece, I felt deathly anxious the whole time I was speaking. However, after striking out I expanded to other events and was amazed at how easily public speaking eventually came to me.
Even more amazingly, I actually enjoyed public speaking. Although I could sometimes feel my knees or hands shake I loved the adrenaline I felt in facing my fears. Each individual event continued to teach me more about myself. For instance, I felt my opinion didn’t matter as a high schooler, but during a round of Congress, a C-SPAN-like event, I felt powerful. And while most of my friends loathed timed tests I loved them because they reminded me of extemporaneous speaking events. Furthermore, the actual “debate” part of debate felt like a fun puzzle or test. I never knew I had an analytical brain until I had to go into a room with a stranger and argue over the ethics of GMO’s or the death penalty. All those events add up and create extra work such as researching and practicing but I have found that the drive comes easily due to my passion for it.
As well as teaching me more about myself, debate taught me important skills. In the heat of a debate one must focus and organize to keep track of their opponent’s argument. One must also be cognizant of their sources and possible manipulations of data. Debate taught me criticalness of the world around me and not in an inherently negative way. I grew more critical in the sense I learned more about the world around me and grew curious about why things were the way they were. High school debate taught me not only about myself and how to approach the world, but that I can speak in public without the fear of meeting my maker.
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