Peer Review by Ash (United States)

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Lessons and Losses

By: Felicitay

PROMPT: Open Prompt

There goes my opening hook....oops, I totally forgot to mention that really important piece of reasoning….and wait a second, isn’t that piece of evidence for the other side?!?! When I got to that point in my speech, I started stuttering to cover my mistake up and a heat wave of embarrassment had just turned my face a peculiar shade of bright red.

You get the point: the first speech I ever gave at my first debate tournament did not go very well. Today, though, I am proud to say that in the last speech I gave, I refuted all the opposition’s points effectively; I supported the framework of the debate decently; and we won the round. However, I would not have been able to do this at all if it weren’t for the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met through debate.

When my mother first mentioned the word “debate” to me in the late summer of 2013, I just shrugged, and thought, “This sounds boring. I’m not going to join the club no matter what my mother asks or says.” And even though I now regret it, this was the choice I made, so I didn’t join the middle school debate team in the beginning of the year. However, fate turned life around because a couple weeks later, one short little comment made by a debater in my class changed my mindset and my decision about joining debate. Here’s the narration of what happened:

    It was a chilly day as we were walking to class, and one of my classmates (who had joined the debate team) said that he was “extremely nervous for the debate tournament tomorrow.” I instantly jumped up and asked him, “ guys compete?!?!” Of course he said yes, and I was immediately intrigued. Back home, I asked my mother to sign me up for the debate team immediately so I could join in the winter trimester. What I will tell you in the next few paragraphs is really how debate fundamentally and ultimately changed my life through interest and passion.

    Not many people know about the competitive edge in me. Most people associate the word “competitive” with athletes and sports, but I’m not athletically gifted in any way. Instead, this aggression in me takes me to debate. I’m always the person to stand up and give a curt point of information when the opposition makes a shameful point; I’m always the person who accidentally makes direct eye contact with one of the opponents that I don’t like and screams at them (that’s not allowed, if you were wondering); I’m always one of the people my debate coach has to remind to “tone it down a little for the people newer to debate”. Through these two years of debate, through many victories and failures, I’ve learned (and am still learning) how to not beat myself up after a lost round, how to stay humble after a victorious win, and how to debate for the glory of God, not for myself. I’ve learned all this through relationships and interactions with people I’ve met.

    Research. Sounds scary? Correct….unless you’re ready to work and think hard. Creating a debate case automatically assumes the best of work ethic, time management, and creativity. I’ll have to admit, my debate cases haven’t always been in tip-top shape, but the classes I’ve took and the cases I’ve heard have bettered me intellectually. Researching involves skimming 1000 page PDFs and even going onto the second page of Google, where “no mankind has gone to before”. Not only that, but after you have your information, you have to somehow squeeze and shape the evidence so that it helps your side of the case. I thought it was impossible, especially because I wasn’t particularly knowledgeable about current events (a theme evident in many different topics). But after a thousands of hours in front of the computer dealing with strained eyes, unopenable scholarly works, laggy newspaper articles, fifteen opened tabs, ironic kopophobia, and sore fingers, I now know what a. albopictus is (The US should authorize the release of genetically modified insects). I know what negative campaign advertising is (Political advertising does more good than harm); and that it is possible to justify the torture of criminals (Torture is be justified for National security). I’ve learned about the Hong Kong government (China should allow Hong Kong to have democratic elections) and I know how a MOOC works (Massive Online Open Courses do good than harm). I’ve practically memorized the first and fourth amendment of the Constitution, I can recite the exact definitions of the words “detriment” and “benefit”, and I know that Americans for some reason value free speech more than privacy (The US should establish an online right to be forgotten). There is so much more I could list, but I think you get the idea: I’ve learned a lot.

    Besides all this intellectual “stuff”, my speaking skills have enormously improved. Like my description in the beginning, I would sway, stutter, and talk way too quickly during my speeches. Through the nine tournaments I’ve participated in, my voice behind the podium has emerged. I have a pretty solid speaking style now, and I can pretty much figure out what to emphasize by shouting really loudly and what to emphasize by pausing before and after. Judges have given me tips that I know that I will remember for the rest of life, whether I’m giving a speech, in a meeting, or even just in conversation. After observing many speeches, now I can almost always figure out what to say to give the audience chills or to make the judge cry. I still have much to learn, but debate has laid down a foundation of rhetoric for me. As Rob Brown said, “If you can speak, you can influence. If you can influence, you can change lives.” I want to be that influence so that I can change lives to make the world a better place.

    Debate has helped me develop relationships to an extent I have never imagined. It draws people together. For example, even if you got plopped on a team with a person you hate, with motivation, of course, you’re forced to cooperate with that person. To be a good team, you have learn and be able to sense how your teammate thinks so you can build off their speech and communicate with them well. You have to spend hours communicating or practicing with them to be able to debate well with them. If there is no communication, your whole team will fall apart right in front of the judge. I’ll tell you a story:

    For the national final debate, four different state leagues was asked to send out one team comprised of debaters from different schools to go to a “showcase debate”. Luckily, I was chosen to participate in this debate and I was extremely excited. But when I heard that we would be going against a two debaters from a high-achieving debate team in New York, I was intimidated. Immediately, I got onto the computer and started researching, coordinating, and organizing frantically. Most of my teachers and classmates at that time I think knew that I was at wit’s end preparing for 3 hours of my life; for those two weeks, I would miss class time, skip my snacks (a terrible loss), have countless meetings with my coach, and try to find conference call times that worked for my two teammates and me. I’m pretty sure I spent more time in my debate coach’s homeroom than I did in my classrooms. On the day before the debate, my coach said to me, “I don’t think you can be more prepared than you are now.” I agreed; I was extremely tired yet giddy for the next day. After all, I had written most of the 7-page case. I had grappled with the drastic changes of it, and I also had to familiarize myself with the framework. This was all done with my coach's help of course, but I was extremely exhausted afterwards. On the day of the debate, I still wasn’t confident we could beat our opponents, the team with two debaters from the prestigious New York debate team. However, when I heard the rustling of papers, the loud whispers, and the unprepared, uncoordinated anxiety vibes floating from the other team, my confidence was boosted. We won the debate round, partly due to the fact that the other team didn’t come coordinated and prepared like we did. Those conference calls and thousands of chat boxes and comments on that Google doc had paid off. In those 28 minutes, I learned that communication is key when it comes to debate. In fact, communication is key when it comes to real life. It’s a skill that is needed to build and develop relationships and to interact with the world. I’ll talk more about the relationships I’ve built through communication in my next paragraph.

    When you enter the central “meeting place” in a debate tournament, it’s loud, even during prep time. There are the loud whispers of debaters discussing strategy, of debaters yelling at their teammates in frustration, and even of debaters (illegally) asking their parents for help as they talk through the case. I have become very close to some of the people that stood in that very room. Some of the people I’ve debated against have become some of my close friends, and I’ve met some really great judges and teachers. Those friends that I’ve made are always there to sympathize with me over an unfair judge; they’re always there for me to tell a funny moment or tell a nerdy debate joke to; they’re always there to clap for me when I get an award and I’m there to clap for them too.

The debates I’ve watched have also truly inspired me. Recently, I watched a debater who spoke with so much passion, aggression, and truth that I nearly memorized all the nuances of his speech so I could remember and even use them in my own. Those little details I notice in a speech are tools I use to help me improve and become a better speaker.

Good judges are judges who make a fair unbiased decision and give the win to the team who has persuaded him or her through their speeches, and also ones who give good feedback. It’s that “Your speech was great, but you could make it even better if you talked slower”, or that “You really convinced me in that speech, but you could try a link or impact turn next time in your refutation”, or “Your speech had a lot of impact but you could make it better by emphasizing the terminal impacts,” comment that has changed how I debate for the better. I am forever indebted to the judges, parents, and teachers who have given me advice and helped me improve.

My debate coach hasn’t just been a coach, she’s also been my mentor. She not only taught me what a framework is; she also taught me that debate isn’t all about winning: it’s about learning and enjoying. She’s taught me (back in the early days) the standard debate lingo; yet she’s also taught me that losing a debate isn’t a failure: it’s a chance to learn from your mistakes and debate better the next time.

The last set of people that I am extremely grateful for are my own debate teammates. They have always been so funny, amiable, and smart. When I watch them debate, I’m able to learn so much, even if they have had less debate experience than me. It’s fascinating watching others debate and learning from their style. My team members have also presented the light-hearted side of debate for me too. Not many of the debaters will forget the “banana habitats” joke, or the ever so annoying MOOC chant that drove me crazy for weeks. Most of all, they’ve been an encouragement. Their confidence in me is contagious, and that camaraderie is a feeling I can never forget. These relationships and people have taught me lessons that I know will be valuable throughout my life, not just in debate.

If you’ve ever lost a debate before, you know how that crushing moment feels when the judge has just given the win to your opponents. The words seem to float out of his or her mouth and every single piece of praise the judge gives to the other team is like a stab in your heart. Sometimes, those words, that one decision, can destroy your dreams and expectations. I know how it feels because I’ve been through it before, and it’s painful. I’ve learned that winning isn’t everything when it comes to debate or anything, in fact, but it’s still hard, even now, to swallow my pride and accept the fact that I’ve lost. I’ll tell you another story in which I ultimately learned how overcome the failure and the loss of a debate round:

The fourth debate round had just ended in the debate championships. I had been put on a power team with two extremely competent debaters. Our record was 3-0 so far, and we were proud of it. As my teammates and I were discussing the debate, we talked about how confident of a victory we were, and that since we practically had a guaranteed one, we would probably place in the Top 20 teams! Giddy with pride, we walked into the room and awaited the judge to announce that we had won. However, when she opened her mouth, instead of saying that we had won, she said she had given the win to the other team. As each word left her mouth, I could feel tears slowly well up in my eyes; my heart beat started thudding; my stomach took a sickly turn, and embarrassment, sorrow, and anger surged through me. She said that she was “biased” but she had given the win to the other team anyway. What she had said wasn’t just a tiny piercing, it was a long drawn-out stab. Even as the team walked out, they said, “Wait, did she really say we won?” Needless to say, my teammates and I had the glummest faces on the planet that day and I don’t think anti-depressants could have even cheered us up. Our chances of placing were out of our reach, and we had overestimated the chances of winning by our pride.

We did also lose that debate after that because we were so sad, so our team, who had high expectations from many, didn’t place top 20. But what I learned from that experience, as my mother has always reminded me, is that the win is decided by one person: the judge. It’s always up to the judge, and there’s no way to alter bias. Don’t take your losses as failures, but use them as a chance to learn and start fresh. Losing many debates and learning that losses aren’t utter failures is much better than losing only a couple debates and be devastated because of your losses. This experience humbled me and taught me that victory does not come without loss. This situation doesn’t just occur in debate, it occurs in life too, and you have to learn from your mistakes to get over it. We learned later that we'd place 21st, barely missing the rankings. But even if we found out our accomplishments later, what I learned that day doesn’t beat what I achieved that day: I learned lessons that can be applied to debate, and ultimately to life.

What I’ve experienced in these past eight tournaments, 33 debate rounds (25 won, 8 lost), and practices, will shape how I interact with people my whole life. I’m ready to learn new lessons and to receive new ideas that I’ve never thought of before: Don’t wallow in your losses; instead, learn from your mistakes so you can do better the next time. Don’t boast in your victories; instead, remember and cherish them so they can become memories and be built into your confidence. I know I can make a change in the world, starting with debate. As General Colin Powel said, “Great leaders are almost always simplifiers who can cut through an argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution that everyone can understand.” Be that leader. Be that leader to make the world a better place.

Message to Readers

This is a piece I've written a while ago but it would be nice if someone reviewed it now. It was originally written for returning debaters on my debate team so there may be some references, phrases, and colloquialisms that you may not understand / need to revised. Thank you for reading!

Peer Review

It's an informative essay about the author's time spent on debate team and how that experience has changed them.

Your stories scattered throughout your piece are easy to relate to. It's not hard for the audience to put themselves in your shoes and feel/think how you do. Even though you tell the reader a lot of different short stories, you tie them all together and it never seemed like you were telling more stories than you needed to.

See comments below.

Reviewer Comments

You have a habit of saying things like, "in the next paragraph, I'll take about X." You don't want to keep drawing attention to the fact that the audience is reading an essay. It pulls them out of the story you're telling or the point you're trying to make, creating a less effective piece. You have to assume the reader is going to read the entire piece and will paste together all the ideas you've introduced and summarized in the closing paragraph. Adding the words, "in this essay" or "in the next paragraph" or even "I'll tell you a story" just weighs down your piece and makes it less appealing.
Which is a real shame because you have a very nice story here filled with life lessons, wit and humor. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and I want others to as well.