Up for Debate This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

November 18, 2013
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I went to my first debate competition hoping I could refrain from losing tears, my lunch, or consciousness. My jitters were worse than anything I'd ever felt, but the payoff was equally intense.

After that first debate, the relief of having not fallen on my face, literally or metaphorically, was overpowering. Having always been one to learn quickly, I'd already gotten into the swing of things, and was more than ready for my second debate of the day.

It was during that second debate that I found love. Playing this mental sport, prowling ever closer to that metaphoric checkmate, was thrilling. Watching the looks of discomfort and, once, even horror on the faces of my opponents – and noticing the smiles of the Speaker and Timer – a hope rose inside me.

The Speaker complimented me, telling me I had presented well. And that meant oceans more than teenage boys coming onto me with crude words they couldn't even explain. That meant oceans more than the praise of parents who'd used me as a status symbol and patted my back for achievements they didn't understand.

Throughout the rest of the day, I grew more and more exhausted by my mental feats, but I had hope to cling to. Maybe it was fatigue. Maybe I was a little loopy after climbing up and down so many flights of stairs. Maybe there truly was something spectacular about my experience. I can't explain how it happened. I can only be glad it did.

I found love at the debate competition.

Being appreciated for my mental abilities, for my confidence and cunning, was rare. Being told I was the most eloquent person in the room was a first. Being revered was entirely foreign. But at the debate competition, I was all of these things. There were no limitations on what I could be. I was an intelligent, self-sufficient young woman. Not a Hot Chick. Not a Nerd. I found love for myself where there was none before. I fell in love with the strength I found. I fell in love with this feeling.

I found love at a debate competition, and no one and nothing can ever take that away from me. I learned to be proud of who I am and never let anyone inhibit me from being myself. I don't have to rely on barely literate teenage boys flirting with me in text-speak. I don't have to rely on a family that doesn't listen. Not anymore. All I need is me.

Before the competition, I didn't know who I was or who I could be. But now I do. I have found myself, and found love for myself.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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