When I was in elementary school, my mother pushed my sister and I to take up piano lessons, a prominent Asian stereotype. Grudgingly, we complied for a few years, but I personally never felt satisfaction or even enjoyment from the activity. Perhaps it was because our teachers weren’t the most pleasant, or because the recordings of the music sounded far superior to what I managed to produce with my chubby, tiny fingers. I dropped the activity around sixth grade.
But violin was a different story. I joined orchestra in 4th grade, and have never since stopped. Private lessons began in 5th grade, with Laura, a teacher that I stuck with until the beginning of junior year. She’s witnessed my growth over the years through our weekly meetings. She’s seen me at my positively worst – struggling with ambition and motivation – but she’s also seen me at my Sunday best – galvanized into repetitive practice. Our interactions have been professional for the most part – practicing scales and etudes – but there were often moments of genuine friendship between us.
When I was in junior high, I heard from my cousin (who had many debater friends) about the high school debaters that all went to the “squad room” during their free time to do work and chill and hang out and make friends. Wow, was that a misnomer. All my junior high life I had imagined the “squad room” to be a room with padded walls and cushioned floors, sort of like a wrestling room. I expected there to be tubs of evidence in neatly organized files being highlighted with actual highlighters. But I was young, and times have changed since then. I was wrong.
The squad room at our school is located near the edge of campus, in a basement of a building infamous for its strange odor. But I found that after visiting the squad room a couple of times, I was able to overcome the stench of who-knows-what. There are a couple of couches, tables and chairs to sit on, enticing you to sit and talk to your friends. Awards from previous tournaments hang on the wall, as if to remind us that we are currently occupying the space of past debaters that have long moved onto college, champions of big tournaments that set examples for younger members of the squad. Glancing at the walls will send you a subtler signal that there’s always a reason to continue working hard.
A whiteboard with a single purple Expo marker hangs on the wall, filled with all sorts of messages, whether from the debaters ourselves, or from the friendly, spirited teacher who goes around to every classroom, writing positive quotes in a quote bubble in the corner of every whiteboard.
Furthermore, it’s more or less a no-judging zone, or a safe haven, of sorts. Sure, we’re not all best friends that hold prayer sessions for each other and we don’t all share common interests and beliefs, but that just makes us more diverse and interesting altogether. We can talk about the activity that we all love without the judging eyes of our peers (that assume that debate is merely conversing about Congress) boring into the back of our heads. We’ve all been exposed to radical, philosophical literature, so we’re less likely to arbitrarily assume. It’s like in the Perks of Being a Wallflower, when Charlie and friends go to Bob’s place to be who they actually are, to express their true nature. Perhaps I’m overstating the effect of such a setting to have on a group of people, but I still like to think optimistically about our “dwelling.”
It’s not perfect. As previously mentioned, it sometimes smells weird. Lots of people don’t clean up after themselves; there’s often sticky juice on the floor and crumbs on the tables, and loose-leaf paper and textbooks everywhere, but I don’t really mind it that much. Of course, people don’t always get along and drama happens, but in general, we’re a well-functioning unit. Congregations in the squad room represent “the mixing of all grades for the pursuit of a common goal,” as a friend has so eloquently described. Wonderful relationships are formed between seniors and freshmen, between juniors and sophomores, as help and advice on topics not entirely limited to debate is exchanged.
Practice debates take place; this is the setting where people can improve their debating skills the most. Here, there is interaction between people of all levels. Information is transferred between the students themselves, which I find to be one of the best communicative aspects of the activity.
Sometimes, I will walk down the hall where the squad room is located and hear the music from three classrooms away. We were fortunate enough that someone had left a pair of good quality speakers in our humble sanctuary. Frequently, Kanye’s “Mercy” blares out of the room and annoys the class next door, but most times, we’re undisturbed, surrounded by the booms of the deep, resonating bass.
But this post is not just about our squad room. It’s not solely about the squad rooms in other debate schools either. We all have a squad room of our own. For whatever extracurricular or hobby that we enjoy, there’s a place where people with similar interests can gather and express their appreciation for said extracurricular or hobby. In my experience, I find the squad room at our school to be an overall wonderful place to make friends and learn random things. I can listen to strange, unfamiliar music or just do homework in a free period. I can watch Youtube videos and read blog posts, and I can ask questions and check up on people that I would normally not see during the day.
Do you have an abode, or a sanctuary where you can hang out with people with shared interests? Let me know! :)
Thanks to a friend for the writing prompt!
To debate is to participate in one of the most beneficial activities that young people could ever participate in. We, the future generation of our country, will be comprised of the professional football players and cheerleaders, the innovative scientists, the actors, the playwrights, the occasional Broadway performer, the cosmetic surgeon, the teacher, the soccer coach, and the list could go on and on. But imperative to the future generation are the politicians, presidents, congress people, and even the educated voter that has acquired such knowledge from something such as…policy debate.
Intro to Debate
Policy debate is a fast paced, excruciatingly intense activity that teaches many different skills. As technology becomes increasingly common in our everyday lives, computers, flash drives, and whatnot have transformed the style of debate into something contemporary and high tech. Debaters talk at high speed, the best speaking as rapidly at 400 words per minute (while the average person manages about 100 WPM). My sister, who has never seen a policy debate in her life, tells me that when I ‘spread,’ (speed read) I sound unreasonably mad. I tell her half-jokingly that it’s more passion than anger.
Before I joined our debate club, I was expecting to walk into a room full of smart, intellectual geeks that talked about politics. In some sense, I was correct. But there’s so much more to the debate community! They are passionate people; I was constantly in awe to hear people speak with such enthusiasm in their voice. Each year I have debated, I’ve learned so much about the topics that are chosen. Who would have thought that policy debate could have allowed me to know so much about military withdrawal, space development, and transportation infrastructure? I have a clear idea of how our economy functions, as well as what’s going on in world politics outside of the United States. I’ve become knowledgeable about presidential debates and various bills that go through Congress, and the effect it has on our country. Who would have thought that the entirety of my sophomore year I’d be arguing that it was imperative that the United States invest in an asteroid-detecting survey system because an asteroid collision was the greatest existential risk to humanity?
I’ve learned risk calculus. I can make better decisions, because I can weigh one choice against another. I LOVE IT. I USE THESE SKILLS IN MY CLASSES EACH AND EVERY DAY!
I love the debate community. I am very fortunate to go to a school that is very competitive and involved in policy debate. I’ve always been surrounded by wonderful role models that consistently inspired me to improve and learn more. I was shocked when junior year started and I started advancing to elimination rounds; younger students that had just started debate would ask me questions and look up to me, just like I used to admire the junior and senior debaters when I was a freshman.
But even greater is the relationship between schools. While most maintain secrecy about new strategies and files that are constantly updated between tournaments, debaters have consistently managed to maintain strong friendships. Despite the extremely (and I mean EXTREMELY) intense competition between schools and even within them, the community is able to stay tightly knit because of the inside jokes that no one else in our schools seems to understand. Whether it be about a funny rebuttal speech or an absurd argument test-driven to observe its effectiveness on a judge, non-debaters at my school swear that it sounds like we’re speaking a different language. In a way, it is a private, exclusive form of communication that few people can speak and write in. I’m constantly asked by my peers to “spread,” the same way that someone would ask me to speak a different language; it entertains and intrigues them.
I see this happen on a small scale: debaters that live within one state congregate at parties and have fun. I also observe the astounding relationships that are able to be maintained all over the country! Who would have thought that a high school kid living in Georgia would be able to create wonderful friendships with people from Kansas, Utah, Ohio, Illinois, California, or New Jersey? Perhaps it’s because we are all engrossed in our computers doing research, but we have also become accustomed to emailing, chatting, and video-calling each other. I’ve always feared the possibility of becoming socially awkward when being forced to speak face-to-face with people after spending so much time online, but I feel as though debaters are an exception to this phenomenon. We spend so much of our time eloquently persuading others why our point of view is correct that there isn’t much of a reason to worry.
Just like great relationships that emerge from sports or other extracurricular activities, debate friendships are made to last. From those of us that will grow up to be politicians, diplomats, or ambassadors, or even those that pursue another career but are educated in politics, we won’t look back at our debater days and remember “that one round where we won/lost against that one team on that one argument with that one judge;” chances are, we will remember fondly those who shared those special moments with us. Debaters tend to accept each other for who they are, continually learning new things from each other. It’s more than an extracurricular activity; other after-school activities cannot compare with the lessons we learn and the bonds that we form. It has become a way of life for so many people.
Education and Skill Set
Wow, am I a better public speaker or what? I’ve developed so much in public speaking through the years. My palms don’t sweat as much, my voice doesn’t shake as easily. I can give a final rebuttal with confidence in my tone, which really can set me apart to the judge, when he/she must decide which team was more persuasive.
Now, I’ll rant about the internet. One of the greatest benefits of policy debate is the information that accumulates in your brain over the years, all thanks to the World Wide Web. It’s free, unlimited information that obliterates many of the barriers that certain schools used to face when it came to doing research. While some people live in different regions where the judges can be drastically different, I’ve always remembered a very short but simple quote from Jarod Atchison: “On any given day, anyone can win.” The sole purpose of this activity is to convince the judge, not dispute the other team. When it comes down to it, the ultimate speech stems from all the confidence and knowledge you’ve acquired from camp, debate practices, and other debate rounds. I think that a good debater should be able to adapt to whatever the judge has ideologically engraved in their mind.
Disadvantages to Consider
On the other hand, whilst I love the activity with all my heart and soul, there are obvious disadvantages to pursuing such an activity. I can think of one major setback: the time commitment. Oh man, does this activity grant me so many sleepless nights! I finish my homework at 11 PM some nights, glance at the block, and mentally ask myself: Sleep, or debate work? The answer is the same every time: Debate, duh. If you want to be a good debater, you can’t expect to have the skills and information innately. I’m sure colleges will be taken back when a resume portrays four years of hardcore debate, but they probably wouldn’t expect you to provide much more in other extracurriculars if you were truly invested. Debate is the single most time-consuming activity you will ever know. Some people start at zero ground, knowing nothing about the topic. Some people might start at negative ground, disadvantaged by lack of funding, strange geographic funding, etc. But no matter where you start, there is ALWAYS the possibility of ending up at the same place as any other team, even the most prestigious team in the nation. The only thing standing in your way is the question: do you want it badly enough?
One last question to ask: Do you have the passion? If you’re doing debate simply for the opportunity to put it on your college apps, go sulk in a corner and rethink your decision. If you’re doing it because you don’t KNOW whether or not you have the passion, then I salute you! Whatever the future has in store, good luck. Whatever happens, happens. Being passionate about debate is crucial to bring you above and beyond. You can transform from this technical-debating robot that wins some debates by simply making more arguments than the other team into an emotionally wax-poetic lunatic that tugs on the judge’s heartstrings, allowing them to ponder the debate works. This is how to acquire the highest speaker points! This is how you earn your reputation in debate as being extremely persuasive.
The reason for everything that you do is: the future. You want a better future right? One that’s as stress-free, care-free, easy, and fun as possible. You want to be successful at what you do and love it. So: Continue reading