Note: This was written over two days. 8th March at Cedar Girls’, and 9th March at home.
I’m here at Cedar Girls’, sitting down in the air-conditioned room of Moonstone, watching my team of girls prepare for their last and final round of the 2016 Singapore Secondary Schools Debating Championships (SSSDCs). It’s heartwarming to see these girls doing their own case-sets, writing their own speeches, cracking nerdy jokes and teasing me about my life. I still remember the day they attended debate trials as Secondary 1 students…they had no knowledge of debating, yet they had the curiousity to want to learn about the world that was beyond what any textbook could teach them.
They have always been a bright-eyed, eager and enthusiastic bunch. I realise I have a soft spot for them, particularly because I’ve watched them grow from fluffy, confused and uninterested speakers to confident, intelligent and articulate women. Credits to Adrian. He worked his magic on us, and he has worked his magic on those who came after us.
Being in Cedar is a reminder of my own days there as a debater. I remember that as a senior, I put pressure on myself to make them love debate the way I do. Not many people would spend hours a day at debate competitions, preparing cases that might eventually be torn down, having to negotiate with their parents that competition period was ending “soon”, dealing with sometimes difficult social situations or even sometimes not having the time for a social life outside of competitions. It’s an acquired taste…and I wanted my juniors to love it.
My dedication to debate may seem odd. Why would any sane person enjoy discussing “boring” things? What’s the point, I can’t change anything anyway? Do I really like the sound of my voice that much?
I suppose… it’s because debate has shaped me to be who I am today. By discussing pertinent global issues, I’ve opened my eyes to poverty, corruption and the cruelties of the world. At the same time, I’ve come to appreciate the beauty in the little things in life — like how lucky I am to have struck the birth lottery (i’m by no means in the best of circumstances, but I am so lucky to have amazing family, friends and opportunities). I’ve even come to appreciate pain, suffering and failure — i’ve embraced the human condition. I know that life is more than the four walls that cage me almost everywhere I go (school, work, consumerism etc). I’ve also met some of the loveliest people in debate, and I know that I will be in touch with many of them for the rest of my life.
The best thing to happen to me in Cedar was joining debate. It ignited a fire in me to prove myself, to challenge conventions and to be curious about the world.
My teammates and I fought so hard. We lost at almost every competition. We felt dejected, hopeless and sad. More than that, I think we felt intimidated too. I remember how mesmerised and terrified I would be going up against debaters from top-tier schools. But we never gave up.
Looking back, I don’t think I’m sorry that I travelled that path. It has taught me to believe in myself, and while somewhere down the road I forgot how to do that, my Cedar days were a turning point in my self-understanding. All I needed to know then was that I (and we) were good enough. We tried, and we tried again. Despite our school’s limited funding, we would call, text and pester our coach to meet us outside of school. In fact, over the years, we’ve grown so close to him that he is more of a wonderful friend than our ex-coach.
Fun story: On April Fool’s Day, I sent a text to Adrian (our ex-coach) telling him to urgently call a number. It would have redirected him to IMH’s hotline. Unfortunately my prank backfired, because he texted me to inform me that he was leaving Cedar for good. This was a threat he ALWAYS made to us, but this time he sounded genuinely serious. I called him, and because his acting was so brilliant, I really thought he was leaving and I got so sad that I started crying on the phone (well this is embarrassing HAHA). When my batch mates found out, we all became super emotional, telling him that if he was joking, it wasn’t funny. After a while of keeping up this act, he started laughing hysterically because he was pulling our leg. Ah, what an idiot (yes, I’m the idiot hahah). Interestingly enough, despite all his threats since his first ever stint as Cedar’s debate coach, he stayed on for 6 whole years (but never stopped threatening to leave Cedar for greener pastures with cooler cows).
While we didn’t do as well as we wanted to, for the first time in 7 years, Cedar broke to the quarter-finals of the SSSDCs. It may not seem like much to others, but to us, it was a sweet success — a culmination of our blood, sweat and tears.
Nabila a few years ago would have considered this to be true, genuine success… for a long time, I did think that success was about breaking and/or getting gold shiny medals. Now I’ve come to appreciate effort, sportsmanship and the strength in even taking the first step to try. The sweetest success is knowing that there was value-added to me, or to those around me. I truly felt that today when my Coral debaters delivered 5 minute speeches, complete with their own rebuttals and substantive arguments (or last weekend, when I saw primary school kids who I’ve only seen for one session come up with mind-blowing rebuttals all by themselves).
Debate, as a good friend once told me, isn’t about winning. Debate is just a game, albeit a really good game that teaches us about strategy, style and life. The outcome of debates does not matter. It’s the process that does — the learning, the sharing of love, the community and the self-improvement.
The Cedar girls may have lost the first two rounds of SSSDCs this year, and they may feel as though they have disappointed themselves and those around them… but what they (probably) don’t know is that I have never been prouder.
Posers teehee. These people are so amazing. Love them to bits. Sowmya is as usual in her own world.
Yup, we were never on the same page… we can’t even look at the same camera.
One day in training, Adrian pretended to be a dinosaur and went chomp chomp chomp
all whilst doing these large elaborate hand gestures. It stuck, and it became
a norm in trainings (esp when there weren’t enough POIs LOL)