Applications Beyond Graduation

Valor Lekas | 8/23/23

It's mid-August. Winter has come (academically, at least). For high school seniors like me, we're in overtime to look as impressive as possible leading up to the ultimate test of our self-worth: applications. Of course, acceptances to the dream college, job, apprenticeship (the list goes on) are not everything in life, but they can feel pretty pivotal in the moment. Often I find that the motivating reason many students even enter the world of speech and debate is that it looks pretty spiffy at the top of a resume. However, once May rolls around and it's decision time, that next step is set. There's no more impressing an indefinite academic entity, no end goal for the scholastic hell you may have put yourself through these past four years. So what now?

No matter what stage you may currently be at in your educational journey, it's time to stop chasing the 1s and winning records. After all, the beauty of speech and debate is that its purpose extends far beyond application fodder. Unlike many other scholastic extracurriculars, you actively train yourself in skills that will be beneficial in any jurisdiction. You're not just farming volunteer hours, or showing up to meetings and practices just to have a place to go after school. Speech and debate puts you in frequent, real-time situations where you exist in a performance mindset. You are either presenting a final product or interpreting a combination of research and personal effort, with multiple attempts throughout the year to perfect this outcome. Having a safe space to improve yourself under pressure while receiving constructive feedback can secure your communication skills for life. 

Debate gives many more opportunities than speech to continue the event on a collegiate level, but you can still nevertheless engage your forensics muscles without literally participating after high school. You've drilled the structure of formulating an argument into your head, and the exposure to debating different schools, divisions, and regions has helped your reasoning become more accessible. When addressing a multitude of audiences and peers, you must understand the best way to articulate your ideas and emotions to cater to an unorthodox perspective. The truth often requires some form of compromise. Mastering the fluidity of any one argument can be applied to any subject and will help create versatile solutions in years to come.

Speech specifically (as well as debate) provides an engaged and equipped audience. Use that to your advantage! Oratory and Informative can shed new light on key issues, passions, and perspectives for people who may have never heard about the subject matter. Extemporaneous speaking and commentary do not just answer questions about the state of our nation and world, but synthesize new and complex solutions for the future. Supplemental speech events break the fourth wall, engage and entertain. It's rare that you have the space to have an active listener at a time in your life when it's still okay to make plenty of mistakes. As you pursue a career, that luxury becomes narrower and narrower. Find all the ways to connect as best you can with your intended audience. You are quite literally on full display when it comes to speech, with no stage or costumes to mask the true meaning of what your words are meant to say. That vulnerability can help you tap into a sense of authenticity as a speaker because there are often no notes or podiums to hide behind. 

Speech and debate, as a whole, allows the younger generation to have a strong and powerful voice. As teenagers, we have the power to shift perspectives in the common narrative, subvert viewpoints in the historical and social canon, and impact real media and policy. That shouldn't be taken lightly. Interpretation events allow characters to come to life and for stories to take on new meaning. After all, words are never perfect vehicles, but we can add the imperfect beauty of the human condition to strengthen its message. Being a good speaker gets your foot in the door anywhere— it could land you a job, a new opportunity, or connections that open up a whole new world of doors. 

So even if you don't plan on entering the portal to hell that politics tends to be, or the social sciences don't particularly call your name, the ability to speak is a weapon that will get you far in life. No idea is truly organic— we generate our thoughts from the media we consume, and being the pioneers of said media and how it's interpreted holds unparalleled power. If you're new to speech and debate, I highly encourage you to keep pursuing it (and not just because staying in an activity for longer will read better for colleges). If you can spread the art of forensics to your community, that's even better. The essence of speech and debate isn't the tournaments, the trophies, or how big your team is; it's allowing voices— especially young voices, what we need now more than ever— to be heard. In my last year of speech and debate, I'm going to keep using mine both in and out of random classrooms on Saturday mornings, and I hope you will too.