How Debate Team Changed My Life

Just over a year ago today, I opened my e-mail inbox to find this:

Hi guys,

I just wanted to let you know that the three of you have been selected to represent [our school] at the [SEA forensics] competition this year. You three have incredible potential and I’m really excited about working with you to grow and hone your skills over the next few months.  Congratulations and see you Thursday!


My first reaction, however, wasn’t a fist pump, an excited grin, or anything like that–I was mostly confused. I’d auditioned for OO and OI earlier that day, having decided that I probably wasn’t cut out for debate; I expected debate to be like every other category and have an audition–as it turned out, my performance at the informal debate practices had been my audition.

I’d just accidentally joined the debate team.

My befuddlement quickly melted into discouragement; I wasn’t very good at this whole “arguing on the spot” thing. I constantly felt like the weak link; my teammates Kyle and Aaron had a knack for thinking on their feet while also managing to be funny.

I fiddled with buttons on my shirt.

I laughed at my own jokes.

I struggled to keep up with political concepts and foreign affairs and what does the UN even do?

The only thing I really had going for me was my semi-decent ability to act like I knew what I was talking about. I was standing on a bridge, gripping the handrails and wondering how I would ever escape the waters below.

Week after week, I would mess up. I might say something that contradicted an earlier point. I might make a bad generalization. I might use a fallacy without realizing it. It got to the point where, every time I sat down after a speech, I’d lean forward and whisper, “What did I mess up this time?”

But then something changed.

It wasn’t like a Rocky montage where electric guitars blared, I lifted weights, and after 30 seconds of hardcore music I was ripped and ready to debate ISKL. Hardly. My first year, we didn’t even place–actually, the only debate we won was when the other team didn’t show up and forfeited the round–but that competition, that experience of awe and nausea and wonder, allowed me to blossom.

After the tournament, we could say nothing but compliments to one another–”You handled that POI better than I ever could have!” “Are you kidding? Your reply speech absolutely wrecked them!”

We walked away with empty hands and overflowing hearts.

Come next year, though… I was back to feeling like a weak link. After not having practiced, I was back to stuttering, filibustering, fighting to fill 5 minutes when 8 had been an easy breeze just months before–and Aaron and Andrew were just as good, if not better! Would I ever be ready for this competition?

I would be. I just needed to put my back into it.

Hours spent around coffee shop tables and Chile’s bottomless chips; late nights, 3 hour skype call histories, silence on all ends aside from small Kelley’s trombone practicing and the occasional quarter three cold sniffle. A 6 hour van ride down to KL spent hypothesizing immortality and drugs and Donald Drumpf.

Then came the early morning queasiness I’d grown all too used to–you know, it took me two years to figure out that it was nerves and not actual illness. (I still can’t eat Indian food for breakfast, though–it actually triggers debate nausea.)

If you’d told me all the work we would have to put in–if you’d told me that we would debate the two winning teams from last year, the teams we watched in jaw-drop shock and awe–I would have run the other way (I almost did when we walked through the door and saw the Great Thevesh Himself writing the prompt on the board).

But the feeling of shaking these revered idols’ hands? Of hearing them whisper “that was tough” upon sitting down after our thorough questioning? Of wishing one another good luck–as equals? Incredible. Absolutely incredible.

This year, we walked away with gleaming brazen bronze and hearts so full we were fit to burst.

It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if I told you that debate has greatly assuaged my fears of public speaking–or at least made me better at hiding that fact that I’m terrified.

But would it surprise you to hear that debate team has changed my life?

Without debate, you wouldn’t be hearing me speak like this. When I first started, I s-stuttered, said ahh and er a lot, couldn’t quite… articulate my…. thoughts. Brevity is the soul of wit–and not only was I not brief, I fidgeted and half-chuckled and was generally a very cringey person.

Additionally, I used to be really emotional. If someone couldn’t understand me in the heat of an argument, I’d start crying or yelling or say something stupid in a Hail Mary attempt to get my point across. You can’t afford to do that on the podium! I had to learn to channel my arguments through logic, not emotion. Instead of crying, I had to start thinking.

Lastly, debate has restored something I never thought I’d have–self-confidence.

As I’ve already described, my self-esteem was low. It always has been. I used to walk around the playground in elementary school singing to myself, “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go eat worms.” I cried after a class party because I couldn’t work up the nerve to talk to anyone–after 4 years of being their classmate! I spent so long looking like The Glass Menagerie‘s overbearing Amanda on the outside and painfully shy Laura on the inside–and debate, in part, helped me break free from that.

I can talk to other people with confidence. I can give this speech while smiling without fiddling with buttons, slouching, or banging on the desk in awkward rage. And I can sit down in a few seconds and not feel the urge to turn to someone and ask, “What did I mess up this time?”

Today, I am a confident speaker, a rational problem-solver, and an abuser of parallel structure. That last one, I owe to my beloved English teacher–and the other two, I owe to my teammates, my coaches, and those who supported me every step of the way.

Today, I look back and see that my bridge is behind me. But I can also peer into the distance and see more in front of me. I’ve crossed one. It was hard, painful, full of late nights and Indian-food-induced nausea–but it was incredible. But there are more, and I have no doubt that each of them will be just as difficult; and just as rewarding.

We all have bridges to cross. We all have things that require wise uses of our time, energy, and resources to overcome. It is a truth universally acknowledged that, in order to succeed, we must be faith stewards of our assets. Where are you putting your time and talents? What bridge could you be crossing?

Adapted from a speech I gave about how debate changed my life. This is all true, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without my amazing forensics coaches and teachers. PTL for stories of growth! 😀


Forensics Tips: 2017 Edition

Last year, I wrote a post entitled Debate Team: What I’ll Do Better Next Year with advice for next year’s me. Well, I guess you can say that it worked, because when ISKL’s SEA Forensics Tournament came back around this year, our debate team won bronze! 

Our entire school did really well–as a school we won 3rd place for participation overall, and most of us made it to semifinals if not the final rounds. I made Oral Interpretation finals (though I didn’t place, just like last year) and our very talented Solo and Duet actresses Lexi and Yzzy placed in their events! I’m so proud of how far we’ve all come as a team.

forensics team 2016

The 2016 Cr3w

Ah, yes. Advice.

I’d better address some of the tips I gave last year, then move onto advice for the coming one.

I can get a couple points out of the way pretty easily: bring colorful pens  and prepare for the crappiest topics first. Aight–first off, regular old pencils worked just fine for me this year. I actually didn’t use anything other than my 0.7 mechanical from Tesco, so that point’s a no-go. Also… it doesn’t really matter what order you prepare the topics in, so long as you have a good grasp on all of them by the time the competition rolls around.

Also, POIs. They were my weakest point last year, but I feel like I did a lot better this year. The only real way to get better at these is to 1) know your topics really well, and 2) practice with your team. Getting a feel for pointing out logical fallacies or defending your own points just takes time and practice.

smile squad

Alright. Onto forensics advice for next year’s competition. 😀

1. Prep, prep, prep! It was an issue last year, and while we did a much better job this year, we still weren’t entirely on top of the ball. Hindsight is 20/20, and I can definitely see where we needed to do more planning. More Christmas Break work, more weekend Starbucks meetings, actually getting on Skype *coughAndrewcough*. We still ended up doing prep on the van ride down–though none of us actually minded–but it all turned out okay. Next year, though, we need to try not to cut it so close again (so as not to have a Politicians repeat.)

2. Stats, stats, stats! Another repeat point from last year, but oh-so-important! We had way more stats this year (special thanks to Malcolm Gladwell and the CIA World Factbook!) but once again–we could have had more. Applicable examples are crazy important, and they’ve consistently been a weak spot for our team over the years. We’ve gotten so much better at this–we’re quoting MIT studies and country GDPs!–but there’s always room for improvement.

3. Be confident (without banging on the table.) My teammates know this point is pretty much only for me–but when you get up to the podium, don’t be nervous… and at the same time, don’t just try to channel your inner fury and pound on the table, even if you’re trying to highlight the force of the word “demand”. (Ahem. Sorry about that, Hong Kong.) Nervous habits suck, and I’ve been known to get pretty sick before debates out of anxiety, but remember that your teammates have your back, and your opponent is merely a dissenting voice to the truth that you speak. I came out of this year’s competition with the ability to work under pressure and a bucket-load of confidence; and that has made all the difference in how I carry myself, at the podium and away from it.

4. Memorize contentions! I still can’t believe that we didn’t fully memorize our contentions the first year of debate. We just sort of went, “eh, we’ve got the main ideas down, we’ll just wing the specifics in the prep room.” This time around, we memorized each contention and quizzed each other on them regularly. Waiting for our topic in the prep room? Quick, what’re the three prop arguments for drugs? Sitting around the lunch table? Same thing. I can still list off most of our contentions, and it’s been a week or two since the competition! We did so much better by doing this; it’s non-negotiable for next year.

5. Use prep time wisely! I remember the prep time in 2015 going by quite fast, which is funny–this year, we’d be nearly done prepping, look up, and go, “oh, we still have like 20 minutes left!” It was great. One of the keys to this success was probably grabbing the quiet study rooms in the library instead of the tables outside–those were really nice–but a big thing I remember saying before the competition was, “we need to communicate better during prep,” and we did just that. When we prepped, we didn’t just stare at our separate papers and develop points ourselves–we bounced ideas off of each other, practiced our opening lines (well, I did, anyways), and played Devil’s Advocate to help each other get ready for the opposing team.

We also had two rituals at the end of every prep session: prayer and reciting a quote from The Great Debaters. Prayer gave us all God’s peace and strength; and the quote just made us feel like we could conquer the world!

Who is the judge?

The Judge is God.

Why is he God?

Because he decides who wins or loses, not my opponent.

Who is my opponent?

He doesn’t exist.

Why doesn’t he exist?

Because he is merely a dissenting voice to the truth that I speak.

Heck yeah. Still one of my favorite quotes to this day. 🙂

da super crew

Forensics laser tag and Nando’s is pretty great.

We had a great run this year, and I couldn’t be prouder of everyone. We worked our tails off, and boy, did it pay off. This team will always hold a special place in my heart, and our trip to ISKL this year was one full of memories I’ll always treasure. We’ve come so far–here’s to hoping we’ll go even farther, whether on the debate team or off into the wilderness of Texas. 😉

And if you’re a budding debater reading this for some advice, I have seven words for you: stay organized, stay logical, and stay awesome. Debate is a game–albeit a sometimes stressful one–and the best way to play it is with a clear head and some insatiable wit. Ignore the dissenting voices and go for it!

da real db8 crew

Bronze medals!! No doubt one of my proudest moments ever. I love these guys!

Debate Team: What I’ll Do Better Next Year

debate irl

This year was the first year I participated in the SEA Forensics Tournament hosted by ISKL (International School of Kuala Lumpur), and I had a blast! I was a finalist in Oral Interpretation (I read a passage from Life of Pi aloud dramatically, complete with Indian, British, and Muslim accents)… and our Debate Team didn’t even make it to quarter finals. It was our first year and we all learned a lot, and I’m not actually upset about it–I didn’t go to win. I went to have fun. Debating is something I love to do regardless of victory or defeat.

That being said, winning is fun. We came close to winning one of our three rounds, so we’re not completely hopeless! I put together a rather short list of things I could do better. So, future Kimberly–here’s some advice. Take it. 🙂 Continue reading