After countless debate rounds, speech rounds, postings stampede rounds, my forensics career is over. I'm loath to leave my friends and drive back to the hotel. I'm quiet on the way. I work to keep my mind from going over every single memory from the last five years.
Five years. Nearly 40 tournaments. Three clubs. And so many people.
Nothing made me cry more but nothing made me laugh more. From junior competitors to judges. From California to Carolina. From 13 to 17. From crying at the thought of speaking in front of people, to being passionate about sharing my words with others. Nothing has grown me more than speech and debate.
No, competition was never my strength (except impromptu but that's an old story). My strengths were more of the "horribly awkward and embarrassing" variety. Pushing boys over on accident, wearing slippers into rounds, thinking I was subtle when I had a crush (hahaha no), going into the wrong competition room, and spitting gum into my hair about twelve seconds before my debate round started. Not to mention the gum incident.
But those moments turned me into a storyteller. What can you do with the awkward but turn it into funny?
A week after the March tournament, my club has its end of the year party. The drive is two hours long and I have nothing to do but think. I don't think too much because I don't want I ruin my eyeliner. I do think about all the times people asked me why I switched clubs.
"Was it closer?" they asked.
I almost laughed. "It's about an hour and a half away."
"??????" they responded.
I was never sure what to say but the vague, true answer. It just felt right. Sometimes, you stop fitting into a place and need to move. No loss of love led to my decision.
At the party, I wear my favorite dress and red heels. My knees shake and I can barely walk. But it's not just because of the three inch stilts. It's because I'm about to say goodbye.
I get invitations to graduations I know I can attend. I hear"see you laters" I know I can't fulfill. I give hugs that aren't enough to say how I feel. How do I feel? The gratitude is too much to say without crying. How can I say thank you to the club that welcomed me in, laughed at my jokes, named my camera, became my long-distance friends?
Almost two months after that, NITOC begins. I scroll through Facebook and Instagram and see dozens of pictures announcing arrivals in Jackson, Tennessee. And I'm not there.
Three years ago, I didn't go to Nationals and my heart was shattered because of it. The week was an awful mess of looking at pictures and wishing I were there more than anything.
This year, I chose not to go. Despite the melancholy, I knew my time in speech and debate was over. I don't regret that decision. I knew my place was ending and I wasn't going to kick and fight over it. I only wonder. I wonder if I made the difference I was so hopeful to make. Did I impact people? Did awkward first conversations make people feel loved? Did the words I spoke encourage? Did I leave a legacy?
I always said I didn't want to be known by my competitive success (and that sure won't happen), but by my love. So here's one last love letter to Stoa--and the people within.
I would not be the person I am today without you. You, who watched my speeches, debated by my side, made me laugh so hard I spit water onto the floor, who took out the trash with me every night after club, who taught me how powerful my words could be, who danced the night away with me, who didn't freak out when I messed up our duo, who reminded me who I am, who ripped up that one awful ballot, who was the friend I needed, who gave me the grace I didn't deserve. You.
With you, I experienced overcoming fear and lies. I experienced first love and first heartbreak. I experienced hurt and forgiveness. I experienced laughter in one of the worst times in my life.
Even though my time with you is mostly over (I still be around to coach and give snarky comments), I'll never forget these years, and I promise I'll look back on the time I spent with you and smile.
And though there are many things I didn't get to tell you, these things I will: Thank you. I love you. And please, vote affirmative.