School Voices: The Art of Argumentation and How it Changed My Life

It’s five thirty on a Saturday morning, it’s barely light outside and I’m already on my second cup of coffee. The average student won’t be getting up for another four hours at least, but I’m not just awake, I’m getting ready for the last debate tournament in my high school career.

Debate involves a topic, usually called a motion, with two sides, proposition and opposition. There are two debaters on each side, and the goal is to have the strongest arguments, as well as take down any of the opposing side’s materials. There’s not one set way to win a round or even place well at an entire tournament–the answers to everything are, quite literally, debatable. Most tournaments have anywhere from fifty to a hundred students participating, and take place on weekends starting quite early in the morning. We’re expected to dress professionally, and we’re not allowed to work on anything in advance; preparing for a round is fifteen minutes of thinking, writing, and oftentimes, arguing with your own partner. When the prep time is over, the round begins, and by the end of the day the debaters who have won the most rounds and gotten the highest individual scores win awards.

Many people lack awareness or understanding as to what debate is or why it would matter to a high school student. I understand why I receive so many questions–I was unbelievably confused when it was first introduced to me. My grade seven English teacher, who would later become my coach, introduced debating as part of the curriculum. The project overwhelmed me and I felt completely unprepared; it seemed as though all the students in my class were far smarter and much more confident than I was. Before I knew it, only a few weeks into my high school experience, I was up at the podium speaking for a project I expected to fail at. I was never great at expressing my opinions, always shy and placed far too much importance on the opinion of those in front of me. That day, the shy girl whose name nobody knew didn’t fail–she thrived. The words that had been trembling at the tip of my lips for so long flowed so naturally that I surprised myself, and I could not believe how truly excited the entire thing made me. For the first time all year, I wasn’t just doing something right, I was doing it better than my peers. My teacher called me a natural, and I was asked to join my school’s competitive team starting in grade eight. From then on, I travelled across the country to different tournaments, gaining experience and making connections with like-minded people.

I never expected something so far out of my comfort zone to impact me so greatly–but here I am, five years after my very first debate speech, the captain of my school’s team, with a dozen medals and plaques hanging on my walls. As my final year of high school comes to a close, the reflection that comes with leaving reminds me of where I started; a girl with very few friends and no understanding of what I brought to the table. It’s hard to explain to people how something as simple as a school club changed my life, except to me, it wasn’t just that. It was memories with people I’ll never forget, it was a goal that gave me something to consistently work towards, and most importantly, it was something I could finally be proud of.

My final tournament was something I always knew would bring an immense amount of gratitude and nostalgia with it. After a long day of debating, I placed my very last medal on my wall along with five year’s worth of memories. There aren’t many debaters my age around, but I know many people have experienced what I have. High school can be a really tough time and it’s incredibly difficult to find something that keeps you afloat. Everyone deserves to find something that matters to them: sports, academics, a best friend. For me, my high school experience was defined my my ability to argue – something I never knew I had and never expected to take me anywhere. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but you will find your skill and you will finally be proud of yourself. Something, someday, will give you something you love to talk to people about, and make everything you’ve ever failed at worth it. Trust me: I was the girl who only had one friend and never raised her hand in class. Now I’m a girl with a newfound knowledge about how my voice can take over the world.

I am Mia Delnegro and I am a secondary 5 student at Vincent Massey Collegiate in the English Montreal School Board and member of the English Montreal Student Advisory Committee.