On the eve of the 33rd annual Concern Debates final, two veterans of the competition share their inside views and experiences.
It was about this time last year that Jennifer Gillen and Claire Williams from St. Joseph’s Secondary School in Lucan, Co. Dublin, were passionately researching and refining their arguments to debate the motion “To defeat terrorism the world must end poverty”. A dense and heavy topic for two students who were also preparing to sit their Leaving Certificate exams. Not that they were put off…
Enthusiasm and commitment
Jennifer tells us: "Our absolute dedication to the debates was, I would imagine, annoying to our school’s younger debaters who were all too eager to step in. Since we've left the school, they have taken over with equal enthusiasm and commitment!"
Anyone thinking back to those final frantic weeks before sitting their Leaving Cert might find themselves agog at the idea of simultaneously preparing to take to such a big stage (The Helix theatre in DCU) to deliver impassioned, meticulously researched and carefully constructed arguments on the major global issues of the day. So what drove Jennifer and Claire’s commitment?
Claire recalls: “What I remember feeling most clearly was a sense of disbelief and pride in myself and my team. It was absolutely overwhelming trying to take in the fact that myself and three of my closest friends since first year were about to compete in the national final of one of the most renowned debate competitions in the country!" She adds:
Our teachers, friends, classmates, family (and in my case even some neighbours) were about to watch the culmination of all of our years of hard work, time, effort and sheer passion.
The extra-curricular activity that keeps on giving
The debates competition runs the entire length of a school year. It takes passion, energy and commitment. But according to our experts, it pays you back in spades.
The Concern Debates provided me with what the mainstream curriculum did not, the freedom to research current issues, to sift through the pages of Google results, find an angle I was passionate about and express myself on that issue through the forum of the debates.
Tackling inequality and injustice
Concern Debates focuses on global issues of development, equality and justice - something which Jennifer and Claire really valued.
Claire remembers how it changed her way of thinking: “There’s really nothing else like it. I learned that every issue deserves to be examined from both sides, that debating isn’t an exclusive 'academics only' activity. It’s actually something anyone can and should try their hand at. It can only be improved by diversity. I also learned that everyone deserves a voice. I appreciate how clichéd an expression that is, but for me it means that anyone willing to engage in the discussion and the fight for equality and development deserves their opinions to be heard, and debating is the best platform I can think of to give young people the ability to do that.”
Every voice counts
The competition not only offered Claire and Jennifer the opportunity to develop their own voices but also to hear the voices of their peers, something which has resonated deeply with them. It may just have shaped their futures.
Claire says:“After my five years of debating and our wonderful trip with Concern to Belgium and the Hague, dropping in on places like the European Union, Hivos and Humanity House, I came upon a very important realisation. I realised how privileged I was to be in a position where I was a young person, with an education, the skills of public speaking and research, and a relatively broad knowledge of global issues for my age. Following my experiences and this realisation, I decided to study law. I’ve just completed my first year of Law in Trinity College Dublin, remaining an active participant in college debating with the hopes of working as a human rights lawyer in the future.”
Now as I complete the first year of my degree in law with history, I feel that the debates were perhaps the most influential aspect of my secondary education.
Hope for the future
Tomorrow, 4 May, eight more bright young minds will take to the stage in The Helix, DCU to debate the motion “The Trump presidency will be a blessing in disguise for Africa”. Like Claire and Jennifer before them, and countless others who have enrolled in the Concern Debates competition, both teams have already given us great hope for the future, whatever the result.
Best of luck to Sacred Heart Secondary School, Clonakilty and St. Mary’s CBS Carlow. May the fourth be with you!
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