8 Things Competitive Debate Taught Me That College Didn’t

By Hannah Herman

1. Engagement matters.

Apathy is fatal, in more ways than one. It kills your mind, because you cease to think, question, and explore; it kills compromise, because you refuse to understand others, much less listen to them; it kills others and causes them to suffer, because you fail to act decisively on urgent issues. Debate has shown me how little engagement actually happens when it matters most—politics, social issues, economic policy—and it has both empowered and inspired me to constantly seek engagement.

2. There is a world outside of campus.

Academics aren’t everything, and there exist billions of people outside of your school. Don’t waste four years living in a bubble. Meet people, talk to people, befriend people who are different than you. Ask insightful questions to people who aren’t professors. Know the world beyond your classroom windows. Campus is the place you live for four or six years; out there is where you will live until you die.

3. There will always be someone better than you.

I can trace my debate career in arcs: for a time, I perform well, collecting shiny tokens of success. Then, one weekend, my success collapses in on itself. Maybe I hit a team so extraordinarily good, they make me feel like a fresh-faced novice again. Maybe I get a motion I know shamefully little about, like labour relations. Maybe I’m burned out and hungover, and my brain rebels. Whatever the cause, I fail miserably. I am profoundly humbled: by my lack of knowledge; by others’ skill; by the fickleness of luck. More than anything, debate has taught me humility. You are most likely to fail in the moments you feel invincible, so check yourself before you wreck yourself.

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