Resolved: debate is like Silicon Valley

9 February 2015
9 Feb 2015
West Lafayette, IN
6 mins

In December 2013, venture capitalist Tim Draper proposed a plan to split California, the most populous state in the country, into six different states. Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the six proposed “new states” was Silicon Valley. Obviously, the initiative didn’t pass, but the idea of Silicon Valley being its own political region is an interesting one, because if any one place holds the most technological innovative power on Earth, it’s Silicon Valley. But we also can’t thoughtlessly point to a district in California and say “that’s where innovation happens” because as famous as Silicon Valley is for its tech, the place itself is pretty bland. Sure, you’ll occasionally come across a Googler on the classic Google Bike or someone toting a shiny new Apple Watch, but companies also make groundbreaking innovation outside of California – in Waterloo, Canada, where Blackberry pushed mobile technology along, in Redmond, WA, where Bill Gates founded his would-be revolutionary company, and in Boston, where two undergrads first set up a website that would soon hail a population the size of China under its unmistakable dark-blue logo. No, what makes Silicon Valley the world’s technology capital isn’t the place itself, or even the companies in it – it’s the people and the talent that gather to find their passions and see that their visions of the future are met. Anywhere something incredible takes place, it’s not the place itself or the event that makes it that much better, but the people. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

Nearly six months ago, I walked hesitantly into my first debate class. As we went over the course guidelines and requirements that first week, I still remember thinking to myself, this’ll probably be just another one of those one-and-done courses. Truthfully, I really didn’t expect too much from the class, besides walking out the next winter break with a solid credit and three competitions under my academic belt. Even as we went over the art of speaking, structuring arguments, and techniques of refutation, my expectations changed little, if at all. It was interesting, sure, but so was math, and chemistry, and any reasonable high school course. After a few weeks of that, though, came my first debate tournament, and little did I know at the time that the daunting first would only be a speck in a long string of Saturdays spent giving speeches, waiting, and occasionally consuming absurd amounts of delicious, delicious fast-food. But as I and my partner Arjun went out each weekend to another tournament, then another one, then another one, I noticed myself enjoying debate more than I gave it credit for. What I expected to be a string of purely academic events morphed within my mind to something that was less and less academic, and more and more personal. And this past weekend, I was fortunate enough to end this school year’s season on a high note, at this year’s state tournament, something I would never have imagined when I signed up for the class almost a year ago out of curiosity.

I’ll be the first to admit, I haven’t been involved in too many team activities in my life. I was a part of the MathCounts team during junior high briefly, and I occasionally participated in short-term events here and there, but nothing compared to the full-day-every-seven-days that I spent with the rest of my team this season. As – I imagine – with any good team, the group we had at the end of the season was more than a few smart high schoolers; you can’t work so hard for a full half-year almost each and every week and be nonchalant about the whole deal. Part of what made the season and the experience of debate this year so wonderful was that everyone involved was decidedly passionate about what it is that each of us was doing. And more than that, as I briefly reminded Arjun recently after a particularly….odd round*, even though all of us pour our efforts and hearts into the activity, the reason it was more than just a one-and-done deal was because debate exists within the broader context of human relationships – we do it with other people. This small universe of our own that we call debate can’t really happen without the trust, the friendly competition, and the occasional tension that we’re bound to have as human beings, and I think many of us has had more than a fair share of each of those this year. My point is, debate is always as inspiring and enjoyable as it is not only because of the activity itself, but even more because of the people who participate in it. As a wise middle-aged man once said, “In the end…what you do isn’t going to be nearly as interesting or important as who you do it with”. And I think this year’s debate experience is a perfect fit for the statement.

In the end…what you do isn’t going to be nearly as interesting or important as who you do it with - John Green, of the Vlogbrothers

So finally, there is a point to my random excursion to Silicon Valley at the beginning of this story. Because both Silicon Valley and debate are things of their own, but they’re able to become as great as they are because of the people, the talent, and the passion that we find in them rather than something inherent about either of them. Silicon Valley is the technological capital of the world, but without the people in Silicon Valley who are incredibly passionate about touching people’s lives with each line of their program and each curve or corner they design, the city wouldn’t nearly be as awesome. And similarly, debate is just one of thousands of co-curricular activities I could have chosen this year, but without the people who were so passionate about what they did and enthusiastic about each other, I don’t think it would have been nearly as memorable as it was. So in the tail end of my first year of debating, I’m so thankful to my inspirational coaches Ben and Mr. Smith, to the awesome team members with whom I had the opportunity to work all year, and of course, to Arjun, who did so much above and beyond the call of duty as a partner to stand with me on that stage Saturday night.

A giant thanks to everyone.

* Something tells me, Arjun, you’re reading this. And if so, I hope you still remember what I said then, because it was one of the rare things I said this year that you agreed on immediately.

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