Warrior Words: Questions, cookies, and conversation-starters

“Who are you?” On weekend-afternoon bake sales at the Village Market, customers ask this each time they pass our table. Despite the giant banner with “WILTON DEBATE TEAM” visibly spelled in all-caps and the row of high school students decked out in blue team attire, this is a legitimate question. Our debate team has suffered an identity crisis for years, beginning with its own name. Are we a team? A club? Independents? Debate falls into a special category of its own.

We compete in local, state, and even national tournaments, yet we have no coach, our only training passed from generation to generation of students. We train using PowerPoint presentations and pencils, speech drills and mock debate rounds. We also “train” by giving extemporaneous speeches exploring the merits of Fig Newtons, and have competitions over who can deliver the longest uninterrupted monologue on the color blue.

We “train” at home, where our parents huff in exasperation when they start losing all of their arguments against us. We don’t carry a hefty load of equipment to tournaments: pens, paper and (if you’re really dedicated) a dictionary and almanac. People don’t show up in hordes to cheer, scream, and wave banners during rounds. In fact, only once have I debated in front of spectators, when one of my opponents brought in his mom, dad, and grandparents to watch our round (no, this doesn’t usually happen).

“Who are you?” When Village Market passersby ask this question, I really have only one answer: another question. “What do you think?” I ask. There exist a million ways to finish my sentence: about Ebola, about universal health care, about education reform, about the environment and climate change, about human rights violations, about the meaning of life and the universe.

In the end, we are not only speakers but also listeners, a hodgepodge of ears and mouths. We don’t simply try to find answers but instead ask questions, hungry to know more, yet oddly spellbound by the depth of what we don’t know. We contemplate both sides, even if at first we don’t personally agree with them. In fact, we thrive on differences, on clash. As with complementary colors, when we place two diverging arguments next to each other, they both stand out more clearly. We love it when you question the banner, when you doubt our team T-shirts, and when you pause and ask, “Who are you again?” before buying our brownies. The answer won’t be a clear-cut, three-word name, but a conversation of infinite possibilities.

Evaline Xie is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with four classmates.