Beautifully Said

MERHS Debate Team Shines


This past Saturday morning, I found myself in a rather strange circumstance — surrounded by a sea of teenagers who chose, of their own free will, to get up at 5:30 a.m., shower, get dressed in casual business attire, board a bus, drive for an hour, and meet up with other freshly showered teenagers donning casual business attire.  Why?  A speech and debate competition, where hundreds of highly motivated high schoolers from all across Massachusetts gather, sharp and ready, to go toe to toe in all manner of categories, testing their intellectual dexterity. 

My daughter competes in Public Forum Debate where two teams, each with two students, debate a topic of current interest or policy.  You all may be familiar with this format as the Cricket regularly runs Point, Counterpoint, in which debaters from the high school present two opposing sides to an issue or topic.  So, I am familiar with this type of debate and have judged it.  However, on this particular Saturday, I was judging Speech competitions.  I had no idea how many categories of speech there are.  I saw pairs of students perform 10-minute Duos—“A  unique, memorized event challenging two performers to render a dynamic moment utilizing appropriate vocal expression, gesture, and interaction between partners. As a unit, the two performers will vocally and physically respond to each other’s verbal and non-verbal cues while maintaining an off-stage focus,” explained my judge’s notes.  I judged radio broadcasting, group discussions, and a final where students presented their own original work, from slam poetry to long-format essays to persuasive speeches, each for six riveting minutes.  The power and creativity of their work were surpassed only by their vulnerability, subtlety, and — truth.

Over a work lunch, discussing the topic of high school debate, Erika Brown, the Editor of the Cricket, made an excellent point:  that the spirit of speech and debate to have to learn both sides of an issue so completely that you can argue for and try your best to defend opposing points of view is exactly what our country needs right now.  A willingness to allow for dissenting voices. This is precisely what these high school debaters are doing.

Round after round, I was delighted and impressed by these amazing young people who clearly spent countless hours outside of school preparing work that was, more often than not, seamless.  Gwendolyn Berger and Stella Straub won four out of five of their debate rounds, just missing the finals but qualifying for states.  Sabine Cooper, new to Speech, competed in several Poetry rounds.  

After a very long day, I left not only incredibly proud and grateful but also intensely aware of the value and importance of this amazing extracurricular activity.

Any of us who read the headlines or watch the nightly news can be left feeling at best anxious and at worst, hopeless.  From our shattered politics to raging land wars to the mind-boggling uncertainty of AI, I have often wondered how our kids will navigate the world ahead of them.

Prior to this weekend, my answer would have been – I have no idea.

After this weekend, my answer may just be—beautifully. 

The MERHS Debate Team is having its annual fundraising “Research Drive.” Donate by sending a check to the ME Regional High School, 36 Lincoln St., or by giving your name to judge future tournaments; I suspect that you will, as I did, find it time very well spent.