My favorite extracurricular activity is the debate team, which I first joined as a high school freshman. I moved to a new school that year and was a shy, withdrawn young girl who wasn't quite sure where I would fit in. My guidance counselor, Ms. Evans, suggested that the debate team might bring me out of my shell and help me to make friends. She had no idea what a monster she was creating.
My first few days on the debate team didn't look promising. I was still painfully shy, and was constantly told to "Speak up" because no one could hear me. I still remember turning beet red with embarrassment when our coach, Dr. Jones, told me I sounded like a guppy who was swimming downstream. Everyone else seemed so confident and self-assured. I didn't really feel that I fit in.
Dr. Jones thought the problem was a lack of conviction.
While I was always well-prepared for the debates, I didn't seem to really care about the topics, making it hard to sway observers to my side. He finally suggested that I personally select the topic for our next debate. The only condition was that that it had to be something I felt passionately about. I chose AIDS awareness.
When we debated the topic the following week , my fellow students thought an alien being had taken over my body. I argued in favor of AIDS education with more fire and energy than they had ever seen. I politely discredited every argument the other side made against my points and had facts to back up my assertions. Long after my teammates were tiring of the subject, I was still smoking.
Dr. Jones approached me after the debate and asked where the enthusaism had come from. I explained to the entire group why AIDS awareness was so important to me. My younger cousing Jane had contracted it from a blood transfusion at age nine and had recently died at age fifteen. I was painfully aware of the ignorance and discrimination that surround AIDS and I can champion the cause better than anyone else. Dr. Jones consoled me on my loss and gave me advice for excelling in debate: to use my passion, my passion for Jane, to fuel every debate I'm in. He assured me that if I infused every argument with the same emotion and preparation as I did for AIDS, the winner's trophy would be mine.
I took those words to heart. That first AIDS debate was three years ago and I'm still on the debating team. Dr. Jones is still our coach and I've used his advice every day. I research every topic well and come well-prepared to argue either side. When my back is against the wall, I fight back with the same energy I gave for AIDS awareness. We don't win every debate, but we win a lot and with a ton of conviction.
A wonderful side benefit is that my fellow debaters have become good friends. After sharing my cousin's death with them, they opened up about their lives, and I felt privileged to know about their cares and concerns. I'm a more confident, caring woman because of my debating experience and I recommend it to anyone who seeks to improve their speaking skills. If you find your passion and bring it to every debate, you will be a natural.