Thoughts from the Executive Director: Season of champions

The intensity in the halls, the passionate voices from the debate rooms, the buzz in the auditorium, the announcements, the whooping from the crowd, the dancing down the aisle, the medals swinging, the high-fives. It’s the season of champions. And boy, has it been fun to watch!

And inspiring too. The students in our Chicago Debate Championships, and the students who went on to participate in and succeed in state and national championships — all worked so diligently, and proved themselves to be smart, effective, analytical and passionate. Watching their competitive success and competitive spirit is thrilling.

But I’m equally inspired by the debaters who are not the champions.

A coach told us this story: One of his debaters started the school year far from a high-achiever. He lacked focus, he fidgeted in class, he had trouble organizing himself, he was immature, his reading level was well below grade level. But he joined debate. And at the end of the season, when that boy got up to debate, he looked and acted “like a lawyer,” as the coach reported. He had found presence and focus and self-esteem. And by the end of the year of debate, his reading level had improved so dramatically that he no longer needed special education services for reading – an improvement that the reading instructor attributed to the boy’s participation in debate.

So many stories like this move me.

  • There’s the girl who went from being shy to being outspoken in class due to the self-confidence she got from debate.
  • There’s the boy who learned from debate that you can use words, rather than violence, to resolve disagreements.
  • There’s the student who learned that she needn’t argue about what doesn’t matter, but that she has a voice to argue about what does matter.
  • There are the students who are changing the whole culture of their school by demonstrating that it’s cool and empowering to debate.
  • There’s student after student graduating high school and going to college because of debate.

In this season of champions, let’s remember this: not every kid in debate wins a tournament or a speaker award, or even a round. But every kid in debate wins.

Edie Canter, Executive Director