Lessons From DKC
This year students across America are debating the future of American education and how the government can allocate funds most effectively. I say unapologetically that the solution has been sitting under our noses this entire time: organizations like DEBATE-Kansas City (DKC) improve education, cultivate leaders and make students think.
I speak without hesitation because I have witnessed and experienced the growth in confidence, intellect, and leadership that this program nurtures. I started debating in 6th grade, following the example of my older sister, and have debated ever since. Looking back on my experience from middle school to now (my senior year of high school) the influence of this organization is truly astounding. Let me begin by thanking Isaac Allen and Gabe Cook for all of the time and effort they have poured into this program. Of all the ingredients for success in a student’s life, perhaps the most important is whether the student feels as if someone believes in them. Mr. Allen and Mr. Cook, thank you for believing in me.
I remember my first tournament as if it was yesterday. I was wearing my blue Arrowhead debate hoodie, carrying my congress speeches in hand, and rushing through the hallway to find my chamber. It was both invigorating and terrifying; I was about to compete against other students on topics ranging from pollution to school policy – and I was pumped. I ended my first ever tournament with a first-place trophy that pushed me to continue competing. As a congressional debater, I began experimenting with my three minutes of speech-time. I started to use all sorts of rhetorical skills, deploying different analogies and attention-grabbers. I recall giving a speech on Mars exploration where I held my breath with water in my mouth to underscore the red planet’s lack of oxygen. These memories and the lessons acquired from them helped me develop as an orator and citizen. I learned how to be competitive without being crass, and I practiced the art of critical thinking on every timely topic.
Behind the scenes, however, I was an insecure teenager, bullied in middle-school, and intensely critical of myself. Joining DKC gave me a new community of friends, mentors, and a host of unforgettable experiences. In our society, people are classified and divided in terms of their wealth, appearance, or whatever cultural fixation – but DKC and debate were my great equalizer.
Over the course of my high school career, I have had to compete against students from much more affluent schools than my own. I will admit, I used to be intimidated and doubted myself; but once the timer started and the debate began, that fear dissipated. I saw that I was just as qualified as those more affluent students were. Regardless of my background, my coaches, my hard work, and DKC prepared me to compete at the highest level.
My father once told me that education is one of the most important factors in rising out of poverty and mediocrity; political scientists and education theorists argue that education is vital to the longevity of a democracy. DKC is an organization that helps achieve these goals because they offer students the intellectual and mental support needed to elevate themselves towards their dreams. Programs like DKC are indispensable and a benefit to this nation as a whole. I have witnessed friends who once lacked confidence gradually rise into champions and intellectuals of the first order. It was not by accident but because of the hard work of our coaches and DKC.
Debate also taught me to be more confident. I learned how to cultivate arguments and polish my delivery. I learned to hone my craft. In the process, I ceased to become a “sheep”, simply depending on mouth-to-ear information in formulating my opinions; I actually began searching for the truth myself, asking the right questions and forming my own meticulously constructed perspectives that were informed by research and stimulating conversations. Thus, I grew more independent and more mature with each passing day and year of debate.
My passion in life is to help other young people realize their potential. In my experience that can only be accomplished when we stop treating the youth of America as mere “children” but as “children with potential”. DKC encourages students to engage in the political issues of our day, inviting them to watch the presidential debates and articulate their own perspectives on domestic and foreign policy. DKC formed me into a leader and helped me pursue my goals with the necessary foundations to develop self-confidence and practice the transformative virtue of believing in others.
I will never forget when I competed at nationals in 8th grade with my policy-debate partner, Vanessa Obi. Vanessa and I were surrounded by DKC mentors scrambling to help us formulate our arguments and prepare us for competition. That support ultimately propelled Vanessa and I to become the first Kansas City policy debate team to break into elimination rounds at the national tournament.
The lessons learned in debate do not stay in the room but stick with us for the rest of our lives.
Once again, while there are robust debates across the country about education policy, there is no debate that DEBATE-Kansas City is part of the solution.