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My Summer Off
Memory can be so fickle. Like some great book that is slowly loosing its pages, you begin with an entire novel full of details and descriptions and, if you’re not careful, you end up with nothing more than the cover and the brief synopsis on the back page. My novel on the subject of the end of summer school debate has lost its share of pages but the back-cover synopsis, the essence of the entire experience, is still with me.
“We are about to begin our annual debating tournament,” the instructor beamed with an enthusiasm that let each of us know how happy he was that we had made it this far. “It will be the culmination of your six weeks of learning and will count as a considerable part of your grade for the course. We will begin at eight tomorrow morning. Get some practice, get some sleep, see you there.”
I don’t know what drew me to the course but I can remember my parents telling me they felt I should go to summer school. I was opposed to the concept of summer school right up to the moment I was issued the dictum “go to school or get a job”, at which point I became the world’s greatest advocate of off-season learning. Besides, I was only fifteen and the workplace just wasn’t ready for me. So I thumbed through the course book, singing a chorus of no’s until I arrived on the Debate and Public Speaking page. There resided a large photograph of a boy confidently standing behind an ornate podium, clearly frozen in the middle of some captivating and influential argument. I read the passage describing the course and was immediately sold. How could a stuffy math class or a trivial course in art compare to “a course that teaches students the skills and techniques of competitive debate, culminating in a week long tournament?” So I filled out the forms and mailed them and before I knew It I was sitting in a lecture hall, learning the skills and techniques of competitive debate.
As I have said, I was only fifteen and perhaps this debating course was not yet ready for me either. I was both the youngest and least experienced of the lot. Little could be done to gain ground on the former adversity, but I set about rectifying th latter by filling a notebook with all the wisdom that the teacher could impart to us during the hour long periods. When it was time for the first debate, I studied up on my notes, reviewed my speech, marched over to the outdoor amphitheater and was summarily destroyed by a girl would surely go on to be a lawyer, if she wasn’t one already. Two days later I was bludgeoned by a boy who lied to the judge so convincingly that all my facts were forgotten, he would be a politician. And so the sorry sequence continued, the opponents kept changing but the results remained the same. I grew bitter and frustrated but I did not walk away. Instead I compiled lists, long lists, of what I had done wrong and how to do better. With each debate the lists grew longer, until their growth was halted by the teacher’s announcement that the tournament would begin in a day and we were to get some rest.
That night I studied and review my lists, reliving the anguish that accompanied each pointer: “Don’t let your speech blow away in the wind. Look the judge in the eye. Breath deeply. Don’t stutter.” The following morning I went into the debate and rambled through a mediocre speech in a mediocre tone. When I had delivered my mediocre conclusion, I waited for the judge’s decision because it is the polite thing to do, not because I needed further confirmation of my imminent loss. So I sat there In my chair adding to the list as the judge announced that each of us had garnered the same number of points, but, because ties were not allowed, he had awarded the debate to me. I was dumbfounded but I concealed my disbelief so the judge would think me deserving of his accolade. When I shook hands with
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Debate, Policy debate, Chitto Harjo
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