By Eming S. (‘21), President of TAS Speech & Debate
This summer was historic for our speech and debate program. TAS became the first international school to be recognized as a Debate School of Excellence (Top 20 Debate Schools in the U.S.) by the National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA) in their 95-year history. Just two years ago, TAS had no organized speech and debate program, but instead disjointed teams that would gather for individual local or regional tournaments and then disband again at the end of the tournament. Just three years ago, my freshman self struggled to survive in a divided speech and debate community.
So how did we go from that division to where we are now?
It started with the first tournament of my sophomore year—the first of our new program. On that trip, there were only three people: our new debate coach and current 6-12 program director, Mr. Chase Williams, who had never been to Asia in his life before coming to TAS, my debate partner Henri, and me. Henri and I had never competed in a public forum debate before—in fact, I am not even sure we understood the names of the different speeches at first. Thankfully, our lack of knowledge about public forum debate did not scare Mr. Williams away. Though he had coached national champions in multiple events, at that first practice, he started with the most basic lesson about “claim-warrant-impact.” Over the next few weeks, Mr. Williams answered every one of my questions—no matter how frustrating they might have been—and inspired us to believe in our ability to succeed at the tournament. It was not easy. During that month of preparation, we were some of the last people to leave campus every evening. But the hard work paid off: Henri and I made it to the final round against one of the top teams in the United States.
Like with any journey, we faced new challenges as our program grew and we traveled to the U.S. for more advanced national speech and debate tournaments. The tournament in Hawaii featured only 12 teams, and now we were competing at the Stanford Invitational against over 200 teams. Beyond the fact that the competition was much harder, we faced discrimination and sterotypes. People did not know anything about Taiwan; they simply assumed that we were from a “third-world country,” and they asked why we were at this tournament in the first place. You see, most international schools do not do what TAS is doing—they do not regularly compete at U.S. speech and debate tournaments. In so many ways, we are the trailblazers.
But through all of the adversity, we had each other and we had our dreams. Over the next two years, nothing could extinguish our passion —not 13-hour plane rides from Taipei to San Francisco, nor 12-hour time differences from Taipei Standard Time to Eastern Standard Time as we compete in virtual tournaments due to COVID-19. We cheered each other’s successes, big and small, and supported each other at times of disappointment. We gave everything we had to uplift “international speech and debate” as more than just an anomaly at tournaments. At first, we were small and easy to ignore, but with the investment of our time, the fostering of our talent, and the development of our tenacious spirits, we gradually began to make noise. We achieved our first break into elimination rounds in speech and debate events, we obtained our first tournament of champion bids in multiple events, and we made history as the first international school to be a Top 20 Debate School in the U.S.
Our growth was not limited to tournaments in the U.S. Over the past two years, TAS Speech and Debate developed just as quickly on our Tianmu campus. We grew from 3 members at that first tournament, to over 80 active upper school members and 60 active middle school members today. In our TAS Speech and Debate family, senior or freshmen, history nerds or robotics captains—we practice and perform with each other. When we lose a round or have a rough tournament, we support and cheer each other on. When we win, even when it is an individual victory, it is a team celebration because our family sticks together and improves together. For us, TAS Speech and Debate is not just an after-school activity; it is a family, a place that we can call home. As Mr. Williams said on day 1, “It’s a Family Thing,” and that is the motto that drives everything we do.
2020 has been a crazy year. Amidst a global pandemic, a long-overdue movement against systemic racism and oppression, inspiring democratic protests in Hong Kong in the face of Chinese aggression, a life-threatening climate crisis, and a world full of anguish and suffering, now more than ever, we need young voices to stand up and to speak out for justice and progress. TAS Speech and Debate gives all students a platform in which our voices can truly be heard—because our voices matter. Our season is already underway: we are hosting open practices across all events, encouraging members to address the issues that they truly care about, and empowering the the leaders in our community to use their voices for change. We are so lucky to be in Taiwan in 2020, but that does not mean that we can turn a blind eye to the critical issues facing the rest of the world—the stakes are too high for us to be bystanders. Speaking up used to just be our passion, but now, it is our mission.
And we are just getting started.