Last week I wrote about some of the awesome things former Sedalians under 40 are achieving in the world. As I was writing my column, I realized the majority of them did theater and/or speech and debate in high school. In fact, I did speech and debate with a lot of them and we are still close to this day.  

This realization made me curious, so I reached out to some of the people I know who are former recipients of the Sedalia Democrat’s 20 Under 40 honor and, once again, a majority participated in some form of competitive public speaking or performance in high school.

One of the things I have been extremely preachy about since a young age is how important it is for students to participate in some form of public speaking in school. No matter what you do in life career-wise, you will have to talk to people and most likely at some point, you will need to convince them of something. It does not matter if you are working at the local fast food joint or becoming a fancy Yale-educated neuro therapist: communication matters. It has always saddened me that the community is always very quick to support athletics but not so quick on supporting things like speech and debate. This is why the community support of the robotics team makes me so happy.

Of all of the things that speech and debate can teach young people, I believe the ability to effectively communicate and speak in public is the most obvious one. But, speech and debate also teaches other lifelong skills that are just as critical. There are so many times in life where it is important for you to sway someone’s opinion to your side. Debate is the most effective teacher of this because you are literally competitively arguing with someone and then judged on who the winner is. But at the same time, speech events also provide this kind of training. With any kind of acting you are trying to convince someone in your piece.

Another thing debate teaches you is how to critically think in a short time period. After your opponent gives their arguments you have two to three minutes to pull evidence and construct a response that makes sense, then you turn around and present that response. If you do it well then you can deflate your opponent’s argument and make your side stronger. This is easier said than done — all of this depends on your note-taking and memory skills, which are other life skills.

Additionally, in high school debate you are constantly switching sides on whatever the topic is. Sometimes you play rock, paper, scissors to determine who gets what side. So, you need to be ready to argue either side at any time, which is a huge lesson in flexibility.

I could go on and on about the life skills speech and debate provides students. And there are so many success stories to back up my theory. Some speech and debate alumni are making a change in Sedalia while others are literally Oprah. We may not all grow up to be Oprah, but because of things like speech and debate we are able to critically think on the drop of a hat, communicate effectively and have a lot of dumb inside jokes.

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