Looking Back

by Emma Smith

Although I debated the last round of my career almost a month ago now, it still hadn’t hit me that my time in debate was over until recently. While saying goodbye to the activity that I’ve poured my heart and soul into for the past 5 years is saddening, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect upon my time in debate and look back on the lessons that it has taught me along the way. Whether you’re just starting out in debate or are a few years deep into it, hopefully you’ll be able to take something away from this in order to make the most the time you have left in the activity that truly has given me so much.

1. Don’t dwell on the past. All too often we tend to get hung up on those rounds we “definitely should have won,” those cards we “forgot to extend,” or those times that we “got judge screwed.” Sure, I’ve had my fair share of those experiences as well. But my biggest regret is letting those insignificant experiences stop me from making the most of my limited time in debate. My advice to you: don’t let a bad round, a weird judge, or a rude opponent ruin your day/tournament/career. Getting upset, stressed, or down about unfortunate events that happened in the past will not change the fact that they happened. At the end of the day, you don’t want to look back on your career and remember the time you sat in the corner of a loud, crowded high school cafeteria and sulked because your judge made a bad decision or your partner dropped a turn. Don’t let the unfortunate (and yes, inevitable) let-downs that happen in debate get in the way of enjoying yourself and making your experience one worth remembering.

2. Make Friends! Okay, full disclosure, the friendships that I have made through debate mean more to me than words could ever express and writing this section has me crying ugly tears into the keyboard of my laptop as my dog looks at me like I’m legitimately crazy. But in all seriousness, I would trade every stupid little paperweight, medal, trophy, and bid that I’ve ever gotten for the friends that debate has brought me to any day of the week. When my partner graduated after my junior year, I knew that I would never be able to find a partner remotely comparable to her and knew that I would never be as successful as I was with her. Despite all of that, my debate friends are what stopped me from quitting and kept me in debate my senior year. If it weren’t for them (y’all know who you are-love you lots), debate would just not have been worth it. I stayed in the activity to stay close to them. Making friends in debate takes the edge off the incredibly stressful environment that tournaments often become. Make friends that will be there in the back of your outrounds to cheer you on and be your #1 fans. Make friends that will be there for the times when you need to vent about your partner or coach. Make friends that will be your shoulder to cry on when the pressure becomes too much. Make friends to go on adventures with in between rounds. Make friends that will make all of the late nights, early mornings, and stressful times worth it for you.

3. Stand up for what you believe in.Last year at the TOC, my partner and I decided to do something a little unconventional. Instead of prepping the topic normally, our coach helped us write and run a feminist kritik of the resolution. We didn’t do it to pick up ballots, but to stand up for what we believed in and to advocate for a cause we deemed more important than wins, losses, or trophies. Although we didn’t break, our performance at the TOC is my proudest debate accomplishment. Not because we won 4 rounds at arguably the hardest tournament of the year, but rather because we were able to look past the superficial competitive aspect of debate and use our platform as a means of advocacy for real world issues we cared about. Disclaimer: I’m not suggesting running a K or theory shell at every tournament to try and mess with opponents that may not be prepared to engage in more progressive styles of debate. But if there’s an issue you care about, don’t be afraid to use the platform debate has given you to advocate for it. Stand up for what you believe in even if it might mean sacrificing ballots along the way.

4. Do what makes you happy. One of the biggest regrets I now have as I look back on my debate career is always being a people pleaser. For the first four years of my time in debate, I always did what i I thought everyone wanted me to. I wore button up shirts and pantyhoes in the South Florida heat and skirt suits and heels in snowstorms in Boston because I thought it would win me rounds. I let opponents, teammates, and even judges walk all over me and speak down to me because I was afraid of upsetting them. I debated to fit the mold I was taught that all successful debaters fit into. It wasn’t until my senior year that I realized that debate entirely is what you make of it and you should do what makes you happy. Wear what you feel comfortable and confident in. Stand up for yourself in and out of rounds and don’t be afraid of what others may have to say about it. Debate how you want to and in a way that showcases your own unique talents and abilities. Do what makes you happy, not what you think will make everyone else happy. At the end of the day, its your debate career, not anyone else’s.

5. Always cherish the little things.I know that all of the debaters reading this probably noticed the contradiction between this point and my first. Emma, I thought we weren’t supposed to dwell on the insignificant things? Don’t worry, I can clarify. Its important to move on from the insignificant negative experiences that we will inevitably have in debate in order to focus on making the positive memories that make debate worth it in the end. I’m not talking about the time you got 3rd speaker at whatever tournament, got your 7th TOC bid, or finally beat that one team you’ve lost to like 4 times in a row now. I’m talking about the time you felt like you gave the best speech of your career, the time you stayed up late into the AM’s in your hotel room and really bonded with your team, or tried (and loved) that really cool restaurant in a new city with your debate friends. For me, I will always remember the time all of my best friends surprised me with birthday cake in my hotel room at Harvard this year, the time my partner and I took prep time just to laugh at how badly we were losing a round, the time two freshman girls approached my partner and I after a round to tell us that we inspired them, the time my coach performed terrible rap songs in the car for us on the way to TOC, and of course the time that my friends and I almost got kicked off our team for sneaking out of the hotel to get Hibachi at midnight. After graduation, all those awards sitting in your room will just become things you have to dust every few years. But what you will cherish forever are the memories you made while a member of this incredible community. Make those memories and cherish every moment that you spend in this activity. Debate will drag you through the good, the bad, and the ugly, but make sure that you made it all worth it in the end and are able to look back on your career and smile with no reservations or regrets.

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