As Malala Yousafzai once said “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful,”
I sit at the stool in the front of the classroom, staring at this new group of students come shuffling in. It is my job to teach voice, to teach the concept of voice, the idea that what you say in this world has weight and merit and should be taken seriously. I’m met with twenty six pairs of confused eyes, an older stranger they’ve heard nothing about standing at the front of the class.
This is my speech and debate class, these will soon be my students, I will become their assistant coach and as I am briefly introduced they wait for me to speak. It dawns on me in this moment the importance of having a voice and feeling comfortable in it, I’ve given my opening speech now for the fourth time and this concept hits me each time I begin a new year. In 2009 I sat where they were, a nervous freshman who had no idea what it meant to be a debate kid except that an older friend told me that I’d be good at it. Eight years later I enter my fourth year of coaching and am almost nervous now as I was then.
“I am not here to teach you how to be a good debate kid. I’m not here to teach you to win. I’m here to give you the tools to find your voice and to understand reading, writing, and research so that you can understand and advocate and become vocal in whatever field you choose to pursue in college,”
Some of the students look confused by this, we are after all a competitive speech and debate team, our job is to rank higher than individuals from other schools to assert high school dominance, right?
“To join Forensics, to be a speech and debate kid, is a lot of work, and I hope you’re prepared for that, but this is also the one class I use the most in college,”
It kills me now that “doing well in college,” has become almost the only buzzword that high school students respond to, the one track minds are poised on the edge of losing the balance of their lives, however I now at least have the whole class's attention back.
There are many points that we teach them quietly, underneath the buzzwords and the college readiness. My job is not to teach kids how to win, it is how to teach self-confidence, positive self-talk, constructive criticism, ethics, and honor. My job is to help students discover a voice, their voice, and to decide how to use it.
“I don’t know who I’d be without this activity and this team so I will always take my job as your coach very seriously and I ask that you take being students seriously as well,”
The craft that my students perfect is one of the lesser known school activities, but one that each of us who participated pull a humbling amount of meaning from. So many of us alumni stand up and say that Forensics was the one thing that taught us to stand up and speak. I have friends in so many different majors and fields who all come back saying one thing, “Forensics was still the most useful thing I did because I know how to research, express myself, write well, present well, speak in front of people, dress professionally, summarize my points, back myself up, and so much more.”
The beginning of the year always reminds me the importance of voice. Millennials, it is our job to help create a generation who is not afraid to stand up and speak up for the issues that matter the most to them, to advocate for new policy, to help bring information and attention to key areas in scientific fields, and to create the norm of courage and communication. Imagine with me for a second how game changing this would be for the world. The only thing that can combat political apathy is the passion to invest and speak into the system. The only thing that can bring new ideas forward are those brave enough to present them. The generation in high school right now is taking their cues from us, and for each of us to claim the power of our own voices is a critical example that must be set.
“Don’t mind her,” one of my returning students pipes up from the back of the classroom, “She’s not intimidating! She’s really just a fluffy person and she’s nice, don’t let her fool you,”
Thanks Gillian, thanks.