Remarks by Jonathan Collins, Winner of the 2018 Summer Debate Institute Matthew H. Ornstein Award, at Washington Urban Debate League Fundraiser, November 8, 2018

Good Evening Everyone. Tonight, I was asked to give a personal account on the impact of debate, and specifically, the impact of The Washington Urban Debate League, on my life. There are no doubts in my mind, that I am a better person because of my participation in debate.

One of the many lessons I have learned from debate is the blessing of failure. Now that may sound counter intuitive but, let me tell a story. Last year, I participated in the WUDL Summer Debate Institute, two weeks during which debaters learn how to debate and hone their skills. At the end of the two weeks, there was a tournament where the debaters showcased what they had learned and competed against the very people we had made friendships with. For this tournament, I was confident that my partner and I would take the cake. Without delay, the day of the competition came, and we were ready to dominate. The first round came and went, and we had lost. In our minds, it was no matter, because we would win the next three and place in the top five. Unfortunately, however, we did not win a single round that day. I was so ashamed, I could not find the courage to face my new friends and tell them my record. I left the building we were all debating in, and I sat outside, feeling disappointed in myself. I told myself I was not worthy enough to attend the awards ceremony and that I should leave early.

Despite this, I mustered the gall to attend the award ceremony. I sat in the back, to keep attention from being drawn to myself. Many awards were called, but my name was not. Once all individual speaker and team awards were called, I began to prepare to leave, but there was one more award to be given. It was called the “Matthew H. Ornstein Outstanding Debater Award”. It was an award in honor of a promising debater who died at a young age, given to an outstanding debater who best exemplified Matthew’s values. To my tremendous surprise, I was called to the front to receive this award. Even then, I was not sure I deserved it. Looking back, despite my record and my performance on the day of the tournament, it was my hard work, probing curiosity, and desire to learn that set me apart for this award. It was on that day that I truly learned failure is okay, since our recognition can come in ways we don’t expect. Even if we don’t all win the Mathew Ornstein Outstanding Debater award, we can certainly learn from our failures.

Debate has also taught me the power of my voice. I was once very timid. Something like this, giving a speech, would have terrified me. However, that all began to change when I started the wonderful activity we are all here supporting today – debate. I began debating in the eighth grade. With encouragement from peers and family members, I protested my fearful and timid nature to join the debate team. I didn’t notice the progression, but slowly and surely, I became more confident in my voice. This confidence improved so much so that I was beginning to be recognized for my achievements. Through debate, I have gotten awards, a scholarship, and even an engineering internship, which has nothing to do with debate. My story is certainly no exception. My former debate partner, named Iyonna Young, was able to become more confident in her voice. In just a few short seasons, she went from a shy and introverted girl, to a shy and introverted girl who was loud in a debate round.

As time will certainly tell, the impact of debate on any individual is immeasurable. To ensure that we will continue to make lasting impacts on children’s lives, we will need support.

So, on behalf of Mr. David Trigaux and the Washington Urban Debate League, we most graciously ask for any donations and financial contributions that you can make. These contributions go towards hiring staff, general organization growth, and most importantly, developing the minds, character, and voice of young men and women just like me.

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