Picture a world where waking up at 3 a.m. and staying up past midnight is natural, where traveling every weekend is routine and where talking to walls is normal — that is what being in debate is all about.
For three years of my high school career, I woke up at the crack of dawn on Saturdays, drove to the local donut shop, ordered one chocolate milk, two cake donuts with sprinkles, two cherry donuts and the largest cup of coffee they would sell me. After the goods were secured, I drove to my high school, searching for a district-administered van in the dark and desolate parking lot. Once the team was assembled, donuts were distributed, everyone went back to sleep, and our coach drove us into the great unknown of West Texas debate.
Being in debate was an experience, to say the least; it is quite literally its own world. For one thing, learning the jargon and lingo used amongst the debate community is a right of passage and a soft power flex in and of itself. For instance, “postings” are the assigning of competitions to a room; “draw” is where speakers who participate in extemporaneous speech go to gather their topic; and “DA’s,” “K’s,” “CP’s” and “T’s” are a jumble of alphabet soup that is meant to shorten the names of policy debate arguments. Don’t even get me started on the talking to walls thing. Being in debate isn’t just arguing, but rather a variety of events that can feature speaking, acting and debating. Therefore, when practicing a speech, monologue, or performance, it’s helpful to talk to the inanimate wall when your animate teammates would rather not.
The environment of a tournament itself feels rather toxic at times. First, there are alliances between schools built on self-interest and common enemies rather than genuineness. The students attracted to speech and debate are competitive, perfectionistic and also very talented. I was never one for talking, believe it or not, but my debate partner, whom I love, would mingle with other schools, trading secrets and advice, while the imposter syndrome oozed out of my heels and I had a mental breakdown in the bathroom.
The way I have described my experiences so far only reflect the funniest and strangest parts of this activity, but I fear I do not do it justice because participating in speech and debate changed my life. I learned valuable skills like public speaking, critical thinking and organization, but aside from that, I met incredible people. My former partner is a genius and secretly one of the kindest people I know. My former mentors, who strangely all had blond hair, were incredibly brilliant and were unfailingly passionate, kind and dedicated. I love my debate coaches. All of this is to say kids in speech and debate are, in fact, crazy, but the activity and people are the best things to be around.