Yesterday, I drove onto my college campus to work on a paper (yes, over spring break). As I drove up the hill, I saw a poster board sign that read: NCFCA. After ten years in the speech and debate community, I was well familiar with the letters, even if I competed in Stoa.
I drove around campus, dotted with suit-wearing teenagers. It was a window to the past placed squarely in my present. I thought about what I might say to my speech-and-debater self if I could go back to when I was 13, 14, 15 years old. This is what I would say.
You don’t know me, but I know you.
I know the debate boxes you pull across this windy campus. I know the heels that rub blisters into your pinkie toes and the speeches you deliver to the wall. I know the nerves and joy and community.
It’s only been a year since I was you. I competed at my last tournament almost exactly 12 months ago, my hands shaking and heart ready to leave behind the sport. I know that’s hard to hear when it’s something you love so much. I hope you won’t lose that love. This sport you participate in is fantastic. But be careful. Though I’m only a bit older than you, I hope you hear this advice.
Be grateful. Thank first your parents, who gladly take you around the state and country to do what you love because they love you. Thank your coaches, who take the incredible potential within you and refine it into skills that you’ll always use.
Thank your friends. This is such a special, strange place to make friends. Your similarities have brought you together. Your differences have the chance to keep you together. Acknowledge and celebrate the differences. Bring variety into a sport that’s filled with identical suits.
Remember that the knowledge is good, but wisdom is better. You can be the best debater, but people would rather remember the best encourager. Lift up your friends before you compete against them.
Speaking of competition: keep it in the rounds. As soon as the timer beeps after the last speech, as soon as the judge leaves the room, you are just teenagers, not debaters or speechers. Become friends. While you have competition in common, the first thing you have is Christ. You’ll hear that at every tournament, and you’ll read the verses posted all over this campus. Don’t take that for granted.
Have fun! Practice duos in front of your friends, explore the corners of this gorgeous campus, pass notes with your debate partner and opponents during rounds.
With friendships, especially at your age, it’s so easy to fall into drama. There’s little chance to completely avoid it, but I have some experience dealing with it. I’ve made mistakes and learned from those. The first tip? Avoid gossip. If you talk about someone behind their back, it’d better be positive or about the surprise party you’re throwing for them. Forgive when someone hurts you. And if you’ve hurt someone, intentionally or not, apologize. Those are two of the hardest lessons I’m still learning.
Remember that you’re all just humans. Humans aren’t perfect--not even Christian homeschool speech and debaters. Jesus was perfect so you wouldn’t have to be. Don’t put that pressure on yourself or on anyone else around you. Give grace because you have been given grace.
Enjoy this time. Don’t burn yourself out. If your printer starts malfunctioning, it may be a sign that you need to take a break.
Use this time to grow closer to God and to the people around you. Learn and grow up and be a teenager. Don’t do stupid stuff, but if you do, make sure that stupid stuff isn’t hurting anyone else.
You’re a speech and debater, but you won’t always be. Find your identity in Christ first. Never in wins and losses, never in trophies. You are far more valuable than that.
You don’t know me, but I know you.
I know the thrills and sorrows, the friendships and heartbreaks. I came in first place and came in dead last. Your world won’t always be speech and debate, but it’s still important. Treat it well. Be known by your love. Serve others as though they are better than yourself.
You are enough, you are enough, you are enough.
Vote affirmative, because this time is too short to focus on the negatives.