Guest Blog: Grappling with Grendel: Seeking Growth above Trophies

I had the priveledge of coaching and working with Alexander Kidd (along with the other amazing members of his club in Ohio) this past year, and specifically witnessing his speech journey. I asked him to share what he learned this year. As you are grappling with what events to participate in, I hope you take heart Alexander’s message….

From my first days as a Speech and Debate competitor, I considered myself, first and foremost, a debater. My categorization of speeches could be generally understood as follows:

1. interps are great for amusement (from the Latin: a + musa or without thought).

2. platforms are not for me.

3. limited preps are worth doing to avoid timing them.

Perhaps, I overstate my mindset, nevertheless, I most certainly viewed speech as something to pass the time between debate rounds. Yet this past year, which also happened to be my senior year, I had something of a mindset switch. Now please don’t misunderstand me, none of this new revelation in anyway dampened my passion for debate. But it did cause me to view my involvement in Speech and Debate through a different lens.

It was my competition in a duo interpretation (Beowulf, if you must know) that served as the catalyst, and perhaps climax, for the realization that expanding our horizons is an exciting and vital part of the few short years we have in Speech and Debate. And that’s why I want to encourage you today to compete with the bigger picture in mind – specifically, I want to challenge you to try something new – something challenging.

Let’s start with the bigger picture: why do you compete in forensics? If you answered “to glorify God” then, yes, you are correct, and I am glad to see we agree on the foundations, but without minimizing the importance of this critical understanding, it would be more helpful to examine our motivations more specifically. At this particular time in your life, the primary way you glorify God is through education. Young adults (especially those of us who revel in the public’s fear of speaking) need to recognize that we have much unrealized potential. Much of the classical education (of which rhetoric was a major part) centered around developing students as complete individuals not specialized tools for society’s benefit (think: cogs in the machine). Focusing simply on what we excel at or enjoy is ensuring that we will never be more than what we already are. Instead you will go the way of the expert who knows more and more about less and less until he is useless for anything practical.

In the context of speech and debate, I have observed that many students tend to confine themselves to certain types of competition. As mentioned above, for me it was debate. My strengths were research and analysis. We debaters tend to take ourselves far too seriously. Whether discussing policy or philosophy, we often don’t find it natural to act.

In all honesty, it wasn’t with this mindset that I decided to try a duo. I did it because the piece in question was Beowulf, and there were Old English phrases and Dragons involved. The ways in which this speech would force me to grow were unanticipated side effects.

For example, I never imagined that pretending to be a dying Viking would bolster my speaker points in debate. However, the correlation is fairly strong. Speaker awards for me were more or less none existent before the duo, after it, I consistently placed much higher. I am utterly at a loss for what could have triggered this drastic change other than my duo. So even if you reject my philosophical argument that you should diversify your educational experiences, you should still accept the conclusion that challenging yourself in new ways is good, even if it is for the pragmatic reason that it will help you win debates.

Pragmatism aside, competing in duo was simply fun. While initially it was exceedingly difficult to put decorum aside and take on a new character, eventually that changed. I began to look forward to the opportunity to break from the continuous perplexities of debate and the monotony of my Informative. (Notably absent is Extemp because I couldn’t think of anything bad to say about it.) These times, where I was no longer taking myself too seriously, seeped into my other events as well. I began to show emotions other than indifference or indignation in my debate rounds.

But I would be remiss in all of this if I did not mention what a tremendous blessing it was working with a partner. In fact, I would absolutely recommend Duo as the best place to start for someone who might struggle with acting for a number of reasons. First, misery loves company. I’m mostly joking, but in all seriousness, it is much easier to stretch yourself to the limits of your acting ability (and/or your sense of dignity) when you aren’t the only one they are watching. Second, having an equally invested partner assures that you will have outside motivation to put forth serious effort. It has been my observation, that working with a partner forced me to proactively improve my skills rather than lackadaisically accept my mediocrity as an actor while facilitating improvement.

Perhaps the case study of my duo interpretation will inspire you to not take the easy path – to box yourself in as a “debater” or a “speecher”. Remember, you are a student. Your goal is not fame, trophies, or accolades. Your goal is growth, particularly in character and communication skills. I learned, perhaps late in my High School career, that the path to growth is through experimentation and perseverance—a path I would challenge you to take.

Alexander Kidd competed in NCFCA for four years, competing in 8 categories of speech and, of course, Team Policy debate. The friends he made all over the nation and the opportunity to lead, mentor, and encourage students in his club, SWORD, are the two greatest blessings he gained throughout his NCFCA career. Outside of debate, Alexander loves music (he plays the fiddle, piano, hammered dulcimer, and Irish whistle), ancient, splintered, and gnarled trees (he is currently memorizing the Latin names of trees, with the current favorite being Fagus grandifolia), Middle Earth, Appalachia, and the first two weeks of all four seasons.