Unlocking Your Voice

Laila Ward is a senior at Polytechnic school. She debated from 9th through 12th grade, in the HSPDP, Policy, and World Schools formats.

I have been debating since 9th grade. Freshman year, I was mentored by Ali Medina, Harper Oreck, Helen Deverell and Emma Wennberg: four very eloquent, fiery and passionate debaters. Watching them as a freshman, I was awe-inspired; I looked up to them for their ability to use words and their advanced public speaking skills to persuade people. These upperclassmen served as role models to me, encouraging me to assert myself in the male-dominated debate world.

Even though I didn’t attend many tournaments freshman year since I was still learning the HSPDP format, one highlight of the year was attending an all-female Public Forum Debate hosted at Westridge. I loved this tournament because it empowered girls who debate (and even those who don’t) to speak up and try a new format in a nourishing and supportive environment that wasn’t like the competitive atmosphere I frequently engaged in at Poly. At times, I’ve felt unsupported as a debater and insecure in my skills, often because other experienced debaters, especially the male-identifying debaters, get more attention, more opportunities to debate at more competitive tournaments, and even more opportunities to debate and speak up at practice. This tournament highlighted my struggle with frequently feeling disempowered. By being around other girls who also wanted to gain the confidence to use their voice, I truly flowered and persevered at the difficult thing that was debating. Sophomore year, I continued Parliamentary debate and decided to join a Novice Policy debate team with Ikenna Ogbogu. At our first debate tournament, we made it to the championship round and finished as runner-ups. Sophomore year, I also received the most improved debater award. Junior year, I continued to debate the HSPDP format and attended more tournaments. As a senior now, I’ve spent much of this year learning the World Schools debate format. I also took advantage of the opportunity to try Moot Court.

As a female debater, I have found my experiences uplifting to my whole being.

Debate has helped me learn about the world around me, put together cohesive arguments, and given me the tools to thrive by stepping into my own greatness and eloquence. Debate has unlocked my voice and enabled me to grow into the young woman I’ve imagined. Doing debate has made me a more confident and assertive speaker. I think there are still obstacles for girls who strive to use their voice in spaces like debate. Oftentimes, they are perceived as aggressive, and their refutations and contentions aren’t taken seriously. Debate has taught me how to navigate the world and how to perform well under pressure. Any less experienced female-identifying debaters should definitely join debate to experience the expressiveness, intensity, rhetoric, high energy, dramatics, vigor and mellifluousness that you obtain when you debate.

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