Julia Gabriel's Secondary Schools Debating Championships
In this year’s Secondary Schools Debating Championships organised by Julia Gabriel, our school’s debate team, comprising like-minded and passionate student-volunteers and teachers, emerged Semi-finalists in the Third Division Debating Championship. Below are some reflections from the debaters.
When we got our very first motion for the Secondary Schools Debating Championships organised by Julia Gabriel, we were very excited and could not wait for the actual day of our debate.
We prepared our speeches and re-wrote them many times, hoping to create the best possible speech for each speaker. We wracked our brains for hours to come up with valid points and arguments.
Luckily for us, we had the guidance of Mrs Crystal Tan and Madam Irni who not only helped us to organise and plan our speeches, but also prepare us for our very first debate.
On the actual day of the debate, the team came together after school and met the teachers who helped us practise our speeches yet again.
As we walked into the debate venue, a wave of anxiety rushed over the team. What if we were not good enough? What if we lost? We managed to quell these troubling thoughts, maintain our composure and deliver our speeches with clarity and conviction. After the debate, we were asked to leave the room for the adjudicators to give each team a score.
While standing outside, we wondered if we would win or lose. I can honestly say this was the most nerve wrecking experience I had ever faced.
When we re-entered the room, the atmosphere was tense as everyone awaited the results. The head adjudicator then announced the winning team.
We stared at each other and were absolutely stunned. We totally had not expected to win, yet we had! We shook hands with our opponents and thanked them for sparring with us before approaching the adjudicators for some constructive feedback.
This same process repeated for 3 more rounds and before we knew it, we were in the quarter finals.
The queasy feelings in our stomachs returned as we knew that the other teams had formal training and coaches while we did not. We were afraid to lose since we had already come so far. The team had mixed feelings as we approached this round of competition. On one hand, we might have the upper hand as our opponents did not have their coach to help them plan their speech. On the other hand, they probably attended many debates prior to this and knew how to tackle the impromptu motion.
With our hearts in our mouths, we stepped into the room and after a short congratulatory message from the head adjudicator, we were off to plan our speeches. We completed writing our speeches in the nick of time and were asked to proceed to the debate venue.
The adrenaline rushed back through our veins as we took notes, gave a few rebuttals and delivered our speeches. Finally, we got the results.
Just like our first ever debate, we were astonished to find out that we had won. We would be proceeding to the Semi-finals.
Knowing that our competition could only getting stronger, we spent our time with the teachers to prepare for the semi-finals. Before we knew it, the day of the semi-finals arrived and we walked into the place we started off our debate journey: Raffles Institution.
We recalled how much we had grown over the course of 4 months as we collected our motions. We gave our opponents our very best shot and prayed for the best. When the results were announced, we found out that we had lost this round.
Although we were disappointed, we kept our heads up and congratulated the winning team. Initially, we were upset. However, we were glad to have gone through this entire journey together. As Dr Seuss once said, “Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.”
Debating together not only taught us many life skills such as clear communication, teamwork and time management, it also brought the 4 of us together as friends. We had to work together despite our differences, and at the same time juggle the rigours of competition with the never-ending ton of homework.
However, we did it and emerged victorious. With no formal training and coaching, we still managed to make it to the semi-finals. The debates were challenging but we would not trade our experience for anything else in the world.
We learnt to be resilient and resourceful. We also learnt to be courageous by exploring beyond our comfort zones to try new things. All these lessons and challenges helped to shape us into who we are today.
Looking back, though our journey as a debate team was short-lived, it was nothing but straight up bliss. Truth be told I never dared picture myself engaging in any form of public speaking much less debating in a prestigious national competition. Now, I cannot imagine myself graduating without having gone through all this: the thrill of using speech to justify one’s stand and the adrenaline of anticipating the opponent's next attack. It was all too much yet not enough at the same time.
Words cannot describe what we took away from this short yet fulfilling project. I have learnt that regardless of what we do, we can only go as far as we allow ourselves to believe we would. Doubt was always a constant in all our debates as we questioned our own abilities due to the nature of how our team was formed: five individuals from four vastly different co-curricular activities, none of which involved debate training. We trained hard and gave our best effort. Moving forward, it has become clear to me that whenever we partake in anything that requires a team effort, external help can only get us that far. What is important is that we recognise that we are each other’s best help.
While the lack of confidence and resources, time constraints and differing priorities might have led to our failure to reach the finals, I personally feel that winning was never on my agenda. As a team, I think we can all agree that regardless of how far we progressed, even up to the point where we eventually lost, we had enjoyed ourselves so much that winning never truly mattered to any of us.
When our journey ended, we were not upset because we were disheartened. We were disappointed that all good things must come to an end. Before I leave the school, all I ask for would be for the opportunity to do it all over again
On the whole, debating was a very enlightening and enriching experience for all of us. Although the hours were long, harsh and gruelling, although it was fraught with anxiety, frustration and fear, we managed to pull through and our efforts paid off. Debating forced us to look for a different perspective when we were stumped as to how to rebut a seemingly unassailable point and taught us to maintain composure and carry ourselves with confidence even in the face of intimidating opponents.
While preparing for our competition, we expanded our general knowledge in multitudinous areas, from education and health to issues in environmental conservation. Furthermore, debating fostered in us critical thinking skills crucial to today’s society, allowing us to formulate arguments and see the bigger picture.
However, without the efforts of our teachers-in-charge, Mrs Crystal Tan and Madam Irni, this would not have been possible. Ultimately, debating was a fruitful experience, with each of us walking away with major takeaways that would benefit us in the future.
This debating experience has been a memorable one. I definitely have thoroughly enjoyed myself and have discovered some of my strengths that I did not know I had. Through this, I have found a new passion for debating.
Debating empowers me and allows me to speak up, and to critically question world issues. Moreover, it has enabled me to hone my speaking skills as well as build my confidence.
Previously, I would not have been able to stand and speak in front of a large crowd confidently and bravely. However, I am now able to do so without feeling awkward or anxious. This was not easy, but I am glad that I was able to get this far with the help of the extremely helpful and encouraging teachers and my peers.
At first, I was not able to give any Points Of Information (POIs) during debates. However, our student-coaches taught us how to properly do so. Eventually, we were able to give numerous critical POIs at ease during the future debates.
Through debate, I have learnt the true meaning of the saying "No man is an island". I learnt that although we are individual speakers, at the end of the day, we are a team. Without one person, the team would not be whole. We would not have achieved as much as we have.
I am extremely thankful as I have forged deeper friendships throughout this experience. This debating experience has taught me to be more receptive to feedback and to other people's opinions. I used to think that my opinion was always the best and the only right one. However, in debate, the differing opinions have always given me new insights to the issues we encountered.
Overall, I have definitely thoroughly enjoyed and loved this experience. I have grown not only as an individual, but also together with my peers. Apart from being more confident now, I am also a better communicator. These are definitely assets that I will definitely take with me through the rest of my life.
-SAMANTHA GEDALYA, 3E4