Debate is What You Make of It

by Dori Schurr

Senior year hits everyone in a different way.  Some of us stop caring about the things we once loved, some start calling in ‘sick’ once a week.  For me, senioritis is late-onset disdain for my attitude towards debate. For the past 3 years, I have taken an attitude towards debate that is, frankly, unhealthy.  I cared way too much about competitive success and it made me feel worthless when I didn’t reach whatever unattainable goal I had set for myself that weekend.  

Don’t get me wrong though; being someone who is genuinely passionate about tournament successes is not a bad thing.  It becomes a problem when you hurt yourself after not seeing the results you wanted. That was how it functioned for me, and it took me 3 years to understand that my blind ambition was destroying my self esteem.  I began to crave bad relationships with toxic debate people and chase the clout culture I have for so long tried to quell. I was turning into my own worst enemy.  

Realizing this took a bit of laziness – I decided to skip Blue Key in order to have more time for college applications.  This was the first time I had decided not to go to a national tournament. Last year I attended 14, thinking that my presence at a national tournament was more important than my physical or mental health, not to mention school.  It is now that I realize that nobody cares if I skip a national tournament or if I change my attitude towards debate. I understand that a lot of people in debate love the competition and ambition, but in my opinion, some of us take it way too far.  

Some of you may be reading this and thinking Dori has no idea what she is talking about.  I am going to win a national tournament and get into any school I can dream of.  

Y’all would be incorrect.  It was only when I began the lengthy and tiring college application process that I realized just how little debate tournament successes matter in the grand scheme of things.  There is no section of the Common Application that asks how many pieces of plastic you have collected over 4 years. The essays I ended up writing about debate almost always discussed my experiences with gender biases, the skills I learned that changed my life, and the people I met along the way.  When I look back on my high school debate experience, I won’t think about how I placed 4th at Cypress or got a gold TOC bid at Blue Key. I’ll remember how I joined an impactful, strong organization that builds up those who need it the most, and that I developed skills I will use for the rest of my life.  I can teach the younger students on my team how to speak with poise, strength, and attention. I can craft posts like these for my community, and I can speak about what I truly believe in.  

It took me 3 whole years to come to this conclusion, so if you’re not a senior and you’re enjoying the competition now, live it up.  Don’t think that just because I felt enlightened over how little these accomplishments matter that my opinion is now gospel. That is not the case.  I just hope I can give those who feel like they are struggling to qualify to TOC or truly stand out at a tournament a reminder that even if they don’t win Bronx, they could go on to win the White House, or a Senate seat.  They could end up like Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a former member of the NSDA, and become a US Supreme Court Justice. Simply put, debate is what you make of it.  


– dori

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