If there was anything that a 16 year-old Mexican-American girl with bright pink hair wanted to do in high school, it was to stand out. Luck would have it that my favorite class, U.S. Foreign Diplomacy, was headed by the Taft Debate coach, Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown was not a teacher you could say no to. In fact, if memory serves me correctly, I was tricked into joining the debate team. At the time, I thought my high school participation would be limited to Theater and the Drama club. In fact, when Mr. Brown and the other debate coach, Ms. Chapnick, recruited me, I had no idea what debate was about.
My first debate tournament was a disaster. My partner and I were solidly beat by a team who had been together for nearly two years. That next week, my original partner quit but I stayed on. Losing to such a good team made me want to keep practicing, if only so I could come back and make sure that the team remembered me for something besides my pink hair.
Debate taught me several things: teamwork, patience, passion, and the idea that no matter how awful my argument was, I still had to stick by it and do my best. The awards I won, while they meant a lot at the time, sit on a shelf in my parent’s study, a remnant of a person who was still being formed. However, the skills I learned, they’re with me every day.
There is one tournament that sticks out above all the rest. The details aren’t necessary anymore, but the lesson is. In a case where we should have won, my team was handed a defeat due to my pride. That day, I learned humility from the judges. I learned that even when you’re about to win your case, you don’t humiliate your opponent. Take your win and be graceful, walk away with dignity instead of brandishing your pride to the world. I know that this lesson sticks with me every time I walk into the Capitol.
The lessons I learned during debate have shaped my life. During college, graduate school, and now as a part of the political circle in Arizona politics, debate has given me much more than I could have imagined. It was not only debate that taught me, however. My coaches, Ms. Chapnick and Mr. Brown, are to this day my mentors. They have seen me grow from an impatient, outspoken, and rebellious high school teenager to, dare I say, an adult with a plan and goals. Those late Saturday nights spent researching certainly paid off in the end.
Anabel Abarca debated for Taft High School until she graduated in 2004. She attended DePaul University and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Public Policy. During her undergraduate years, she interned for an Illinois House Representative and for a Member of the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium. Anabel attended Arizona State University where she earned a Master’s of Public Administration. Currently, she works as a research analyst and lobbyist in Arizona where every now and then, someone still tells her that she talks a bit too fast.