Most average teenage girls would say they spend the majority of their weekdays at cheer practice, volleyball or watching the newest episode of The Vampire Diaries. Their Friday evenings are spent at a football game and their Saturdays may be occupied by the week's hottest party.
This is what separates us.
I spend more than four hours about two nights a week with a team of one gracious volunteer debate coach and 13 student debaters. Most of my weekends are much the same, except that the weekends are reserved for "the real deal" (i.e. tournaments) where glory and shiny things are on the line.
Let me start from the beginning. I am a part of the Bellingham United Debate Team, where the three Bellingham public high schools join as one to form a debate team (and a pretty strong one, at that - we've never returned without someone on our team winning an award). We practice two forms of debate: Lincoln-Douglas, fashioned after the famous debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, where we discuss morals, values, philosophies and the like, and policy, where we debate real-life policies and plans. As a novice in my freshman year, I chose Lincoln-Douglas, mainly because of the opportunities it offers to explore philosophical boundaries, and have stuck with it since then.
Over the past two years, I've researched topics ranging from domestic violence to targeted killing, and universal health care to rehabilitation and retribution. Sometimes it's difficult to keep researching hard subjects (like domestic violence), and a lot of the time you truly only agree with one side even though you must be able to argue for both. Those are the times when you have to keep reminding yourself that the round only lasts an hour. Win the round first, complain about it later.
Even though the research isn't always fun or entertaining, the payoff of learning about subjects I might have never been introduced to in the school system is priceless. I'm able to sit down with my parents, teachers and other educated adults and comfortably have intelligent conversations about real world, adult issues. In my advanced placement language and composition class, I can fall back on my background knowledge of such subjects and apply it to my writing with ease, while other students may only have information from previous classes. This is one reason why I recommend joining the debate team - it sets high school students up for opportunities for which they might not be otherwise eligible.
Such opportunities include summer camp. Over the last summer, I spent two weeks at the Whitman National Debate Institute in Wall Walla. The fee was a staggering $1,600. However, thanks to my year on the Bellingham team, I was granted a $1,000 scholarship to attend through the Assistance League. The last $600 was paid for by a work grant given out by Whitman College to deserving students. Three of my fellow teammates were granted the same thing.
The benefits also persist past high school when we will begin to apply for colleges, which love these sorts of activities on applications, and even beyond when we start looking for jobs. In a competitive work force, my teammates and I will always have this edge of intellectual accomplishment.
The last piece of debate is probably as important as the educational side, and if you ask a select few on my team, they might disagree with me, but this activity holds a much deeper meaning to me than simply winning a trophy at the end of a tournament. No, it's the bonds I've formed with my team. We've shared long nights, extremely early mornings, freezing vans and countless hours traveling. There's the occasional rap battle between Duncan Ogg and Felipe Rivera (in which a winner will probably never be named), and extensive zombie apocalypse planning. And, like every team, we've celebrated victories and reflected on tough loses. When all is said and done, there are no other people I'd rather be with, and I would never trade this activity for anything, even if it makes me a little different.
ABOUT WINDOW ON MY WORLD
Window On My World is an occasional essay in Monday's Bellingham Herald that allows Whatcom County residents to share their passion for what they do, an idea or cause they support. Send your Window On My World, which must be no more than 700 words, to Julie.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Samantha Sandoz is a member of the Bellingham United Debate Team.