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Don’t try to avoid the past

Over the weekend, I made good on a tentative promise to my former high-school debate coach to judge the national-qualifying debate tournament for the Akron district.

For those unfamiliar with high-school speech and debate, the tournaments can span from one to two days and stretch for as long as 12 hours a day.

It is a long, slow and at times torturous process, but with an arguably priceless reward.

I spent most of my Saturdays — and some Fridays — at these tournaments my sophomore through senior year of high school, herded together with a bunch of argumentative and ostentatious kids in a high school cafeteria. We spent hours waiting for a piece of paper to be posted that told us who we would be arguing and in what classroom we would showdown.

To an outsider, it would seem a bizarre and chaotic setting, but to many of the kids buzzing and flitting around that cafeteria, gathering information on rival school’s arguments and ranting about past rounds, it was home.

I was one of those kids. I spent countless weekends in an ill-fitting suit and huddled around a circle table thinking about how I could perfect my argument, impress the judge and run circles around my opponent.

Looking back, it was an extremely odd way to spend my time. Throughout my high-school debate career, I cried, raged, triumphed and sulked, all with an audience of similarly situated peers and well-meaning adults.

What I cannot deny even now is that debate was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

I am, without a doubt, the person I am today because of this crazy extracurricular to which I devoted three-plus years of my life. This is exactly why I agreed to help out as a sophomore in college.

As an adult, there are a lot of things about confronting my high-school years that are absolutely cringe-worthy. So much has changed since then — my self-image, my friends, my family, my political views, my religious affiliations — that it’s hard to believe I was ever that same person I was at 15 years old.

A lot of the last two years at college has been spent in isolation from who I was pre-graduation. The result is an intensely alienating effect that makes it way harder than it needs to be to do something as simple as visit my mom over the weekend, attend a service at my old church or even judge a debate tournament.

Revisiting the past can be a largely uncomfortable, cumbersome and exhausting experience. It uses time that you might otherwise want put toward the future, and there are many things about how your life used to be that are painfully different from how it is now.

Despite all this, however, it can also be an incredibly humbling and rewarding experience. Distancing yourself from your past does very little besides alienate those to whom you owe a lot and break up your self-image into such little pieces that it’s impossible to recognize yourself.

Both of these effects are hurtful to those around you and harmful to yourself. It is far more beneficial to confront your past, however uncomfortable or cringe-worthy, than to hide from it.

Bryan Alkemeyer, a Contributing Cartoonist for the Voice, can be reached for comment at

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