I stood in the back corner of room 639, looking on at the freshmen and some late sophomores as they were listening intently about what debate was and which of the several forensic teams would suit them best. I looked at them and wondered what they could be thinking at that moment. Which team would they like most? Will they do even better than the Speech and Debate team did last year? I faded out of the ongoing speeches of the Public Forum and Lincoln Douglas captains and began to ponder about the school lives of these new debate hopefuls.
Flashback to last year: I was a little freshman at Stuyvesant and every day seemed to be part of a rat race for the best-looking extracurricular activities. Friends of mine would tell me about how they joined Model United Nations, The Spectator, SING!, some community service club they couldn’t remember the name of and a Science Olympiad team. We were so confident about college applications and what we could tell a college interviewer without even knowing what a Secondary Student Report was. We felt superior if we could claim to be a part of several academically powerful or challenging teams and clubs.
But now I realize what a misconception that was. I learned that it was quality, not quantity, that matters. To have or not have isn’t the question at all; it was more about doing well at what you were working on. Friends of mine became tournament champions in debate, national-level entrants in the robotics team, and prize winners, and none of them had more than two or three other extracurricular activities in their stockpile at Stuyvesant.
Still, members of the debate team drop out slowly every year. Up to half of the members on a given division of the team officially leave or go AWOL. This year, a record 150 new members were accepted. Unfortunately, the number will most likely drop to 100 or 75 novices total by the end of the year because some join solely for the name or because they have too many extracurricular activities. In the end, some debaters and “speechers” will have lost partners, members will end up paying for ghost teammates, and chaos and misery will ensue.
Back in room 639, noise and action filled the atmosphere as members of different Speech and Debate teams attempted to recruit as many freshmen and sophomores as possible. Some were staring at me and I looked at them and smiled like a father at his child. I believed in them and hoped they would understand how they should remain dedicated and motivated to play their roles in their clubs and school teams.