By Carl Guo, III Form
A Brand New Self Through Debate
“I think I should give some thank-yous. First, I’d like to thank this kid, Rajesh, who gave me one hundred dollars to be in the thank-you speech…” This is how the champion of the US National Speech & Debate Association (NSDA) Nationals began his thank-you speech. I was there, watching the finals, imagining that one day, I could stand there on the stage and give a speech like that in the finals. This dream came true quickly after two months. I won the championship of the Chinese debate nationals last summer. It felt amazing and unbelievable, and in retrospect, my debate journey is a miracle that truly shaped the person I am now.
It was coincident that I found out about debate three years ago when I accidentally saw a poster in front of my extracurricular classroom. I thought it might be an excellent opportunity to practice English since I was not a native speaker, so I signed up for it. This turned out to be the most important decision I have ever made in my life.
Through debate, I learned about viewpoints that I would never have been exposed to otherwise, such as criminal justice policies, immigrants’ impact on the economy, and politics and corruption in Africa. Being forced to prepare arguments for both sides, I gradually developed my understanding on these issues more comprehensively. For example, my mom is a medical professor whose work occasionally involves experiments on animals. Having grown up hearing about her work, I thought that animal testing seemed an ordinary part of the medical research practice. My very first debate centered around whether animal testing should be banned, which helped me to consider this issue in the perspective of both scientists and test subjects. While researching, I discovered the cruelty of the practice and realized that alternatives exist. I pitied these test subjects; at the same time, I also gained a better understanding on the moral conflict that the scientists go through–they are not willing to abuse the animals, but they know that animal testing was effective and beneficial to humans. After that debate, my viewpoint was different from what I had for ten years. I started to love debating solely because of the overwhelming feeling I had when different arguments and ideas clash with each other.
I became obsessed with the process of debate preparation; it is more fun than playing video games for me! While I understood that researching is the fastest way to gain knowledge, I needed a lot of research to find evidence for possible arguments. I usually read 20 pages of academic papers on each debate topic, and the results of the studies are intriguing, sometimes shocking since the researchers draw a connection between two things that I have never thought of. When I was preparing for a NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) topic, I found out an argument about NAFTA causing obesity because of more exports of junk food. After researching, we started to write our constructive speeches. We were required to deliver as many ideas as possible in 4 minutes, so I would usually start with a 1500-word draft and gradually cut it down to 700 words. It is also entertaining to develop weird arguments and back them up with the evidence attainable through the Internet. Sometimes, I even wrote ten drafts for a case, viewing it as my baby at the end.
In the first two years of my debate career, debate tournaments meant only one thing to me: winning. I come from Jinan, a small city in China, where there were only a few debaters. I don’t have any friends in debate tournaments. After rounds of debate, I came to the auditorium where everyone hangs out together, and I just sat there, putting on my headphones and trying to get away from the crowd as far as possible. I genuinely felt the tournament was not as exciting as the preparation process. All that I pursued was the excitement of expressing ideas out loud and being challenged. However, this situation started to change this year. After attending a debate camp in the winter, I made many friends. Winning is not the only thing that I care about: I enjoyed scouting (watching a debate round of the potential opponents and taking notes on their arguments so one can prepare beforehand) for my friends after we were eliminated. I enjoyed the feeling of trading evidence and ideas with my friends and discussing the pros and cons of the arguments that we came up with. Through the process, I gradually gained the ability to deal with losses. In a semifinal, I met with a friend of mine. If this were two years ago, I would have been desperate to win since I lost to him twice before. However, this time, I felt winning was not that much of a big deal, even though I did well in that round and we had a high chance of winning. After the judges announced that my friend had won, I felt relaxed. I ran towards my friend, hugged him, and started to help him prepare for his final round. I began to enjoy the period between rounds when I stayed in the auditorium and chatted with my friends there. I became different from what I was like before, but I love that change in myself.
I grew a lot in the process of debate; I gained friendship, the pursuit of logic, and a new understanding of awards and the world. I did win the national tournament in the last summer, but to be honest, it only gave me two things: the courage to write this article and a heavy, steel cup that is displayed in my bedroom and will soon be forgotten.
Carl Guo is a III Form boarding student from Jinan, China. He likes debate, computer science, and music composition.