talking & tampons

This was my essay for the Common Application, responding to the following prompt: “Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”

“I know this looks like a sheep, but I promise it’s a uterus,” I said, gesturing at the ambiguous cartoon in question.

I never thought I’d say that to over thirty classmates, but then again, I also never thought I’d memorize the structure of a Public Forum debate:

+ The Constructive Speech establishes the status quo and the conflict of the debate.

If you had met me in elementary school, you would’ve witnessed my debilitating shyness. I sat as far back as I could. Even if I knew the answers, I ducked my head when called on. Oral presentations left me a shaky, sweaty mess.

If you had met me then, you would’ve met a voiceless ghost.

+ First Crossfire tests arguments, observing weakness.

As a freshman, I hadn’t planned on joining anything at Club Rush, but the crowd was unavoidable.

“Hey, you! Freshie!” A hand landed on my shoulder. “Have you thought about joining Speech and Debate?”

“Uhhh, no, actually, I was just… I mean, I don’t—”

“I have a presentation next period that I haven’t prepared for,” he said. He inclined his head as he spoke, as if he were sharing a huge secret, and continued, “Debate will teach you to bullshit your way through any public speaking occasion. Presentations, toasts, eulogies—”

“Yes,” I blurted, scribbling down my e-mail. What did I have to lose?

+ The Rebuttal Speech presents opposing contentions.

I went to the first meeting and learned his name was Daniel. Somehow, we paired for Public Forum, where I learned to find empowerment in the act of speaking. I was no debating prodigy, but for the first time, I had a voice.

“That’s right, and you better damn well use it,” Daniel told me.

So I did. Volunteering the correct answer in Biology. Acknowledging classmates I met in the hall. Even translating sentences in Spanish or working out math problems in front of the whole class.

+ Second Crossfire challenges arguments, exploiting weakness.

By junior year, I was a regular attendee and board member. Between debate, editorship on the school newspaper, and AP and IB classes, I was exhausted.

So exhausted, in fact, that, I woke up one morning in raw and caustic panic. I was late. By the time I got to the debate tournament, we’d missed our first round. Ultimately, we had to forfeit.

My partner, misinterpreting my tears, sighed, “I guess there’s always the next tournament.”

But I didn’t want a next tournament. I hadn’t joined debate to win; I’d wanted a voice. If nothing else, I got one. So why was I still here?

+ The Summary Speech recapitulates the key points of the debate.

I quit debate. It was an integral part of shaping my identity, but it wasn’t my destiny. Instead, I took what I had learned and applied it elsewhere.

+ Grand Crossfire refines arguments, eliminating weakness.

So, back to the sheep-shaped uterus: I taped the poster to the board and explained how the National Organization for Women Club was holding our first-ever pad and tampon drive for homeless women, who often can’t afford sanitary supplies.

At least one person in the audience flinched at the word “tampon.” I felt powerful. My voice was making a difference.

+ Final Focus identifies the takeaway of the debate.

Through debate, I found my voice and almost grew hoarse with the effort of singing at a pitch that wasn’t meant for me. Once I quit, I found the right key, and I haven’t shut up since.

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