Discovering how an Extracurricular Community shapes Personal Development
“…If you value the liberty that this country was built on, if you represent the interests of the most vulnerable, the poor, you stand on the affirmation of this bill.”
That was the conclusion of my speech on universal-based income (UBI). Economic proposals like UBI are part of the many current issues we simulate as mock Congressmen during a session of Congressional Debate, the speaking event I spend my weekdays and weekends devoted to with my tight-knit high school debate team.
Awake before the crack of dawn, we tiredly trudge onto the bus, ready for another hour-long ride. Some of us take the opportunity to sleep, but for most, this is when real bonding begins: we start practicing speeches off each other, conversely eagerly about the day’s topics, reassure each other and talk through our anxiety. By rooting myself in communication, the power of public speaking has bound me to this support system of similar people.
However, in a time when 3 out of 4 people suffer from some form of speech anxiety, public speaking can be a very unnerving and unpopular medium. When we consider that unpopularity in the context of the age of social media and “woke activism,” public speaking doesn’t seem worth it. Speech appears to have a smaller and slower impact compared to a popular retweet with a global audience. Despite all this, public speaking has a depth of interpersonal connection that’s lacking in other mediums. And that’s exactly what drew me in.
Often, after finishing a speech or a day of speaking, people will come up to me to talk about their ideas on what I said. They’ll pinpoint a statistic I used or an anecdote that interested them or even a different perspective on my analysis; suddenly, I’ll find myself having a thirty-minute conversation on ethics or Snapchat filters and making personable connections. While these interactions were not the deep bonds of spending hours enjoying public speaking, they allowed me to approach people and form relationships I wouldn’t have before. I’ve always found the closeness with my debate family invaluable, but I learned that public-speaking has allowed me another sort of community — former strangers connected by their fascination with speech.
My educational experiences were also pretty fundamental in shaping my love for public speaking, and I started this journey pretty young. In second grade, for the first time in my life, I was introduced to public speaking (well, the pee-wee version). My elementary school incorporated a weekly elective where kids wrote short speeches with cute anecdotal examples about a topic. I remember writing very seriously about how ironed clothes could make a lasting first impression. The surprise, three weeks later, was that we were memorizing and sharing these speeches in front of an adult audience, as part of a competition.
Now, I didn’t miraculously win first place during that competition. I had my hesitation and my fumbles throughout elementary school, but through public speaking, I finally became someone persuasive enough to listen to when my words flowed. I finally felt heard.
The Bottom Line
“Debate is a four-year commitment.” — Bill Fritz, Debate Club Sponsor at Adlai E. Stevenson High School
It’s a dedication that’s always been the basis of my speaking community. The idea that if you stick with debate, even if you struggle, you’ll achieve what you want. As the nervous freshmen hesitantly try out public speaking, they fall back on experienced mentors like myself to guide them. I’ve run hours of drills, both fun and serious, with my novices, and help them create speaking strengths. These hours of teaching have taught me patience. More importantly, when they reach out to me for advice, and we connect as friends, that’s taught me to tread that line of a mentor, balancing both empathy and wisdom. The most satisfying part of this journey of learning is when I see them reach their moment of catalyst: loving the moment of speaking, of crafting words fluidly.
It’s undeniable that the speech and debate community has crafted the most important parts of my identity: confidence, patience, and empathy. My community has provided me with a support system and space to thrive during the metamorphosing time of high school. More young people like myself should find communities centered around mediums they enjoy. The identity-shaping experiences in these subject-focused communities propel the self-growth we’re all looking for.