McCauley’s perseverance paid off at debate National Qualifiers

Junior+Olivia+McCauley+shares+her+insights+on+debate.+%22My+real+success+is+learning+that+I+am+strong%2C+finding+the+persistence+to+make+myself+heard%2C+and+learning+how+to+help+my+female+peers+do+the+same%2C%22+she+said.
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McCauley’s perseverance paid off at debate National Qualifiers

Junior Olivia McCauley shares her insights on debate.

Junior Olivia McCauley shares her insights on debate. "My real success is learning that I am strong, finding the persistence to make myself heard, and learning how to help my female peers do the same," she said.

Melissa Nie

Junior Olivia McCauley shares her insights on debate. "My real success is learning that I am strong, finding the persistence to make myself heard, and learning how to help my female peers do the same," she said.

Melissa Nie

Melissa Nie

Junior Olivia McCauley shares her insights on debate. "My real success is learning that I am strong, finding the persistence to make myself heard, and learning how to help my female peers do the same," she said.

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Debate is well-known for its challenging format and the intensive research that goes into preparing for each tournament. For junior Olivia McCauley, her successes and failures in her journey as a debater have helped her grow. McCauley and junior Kieran Singh ranked first at the National Qualifiers this year. Although their accomplishment was sweet, it was the product of hours of struggles and perseverance.

McCauley recounts how she began her debate journey that led to this success.

“I was a really insolent child,” she said. “I loved arguing for the sake of arguing.”

In middle school, she decided that she wanted to do debate. She had to wait until she joined the debate team at Mayo High School, which has a different format of debate, called classic debate.

“I was pretty good at it. I didn’t have a lot of other things to do at the school that I was attending, so I just spent all of my time doing debate,” McCauley said.

The time spent at practices in ninth grade only reinforced McCauley’s love for debate.

My freshman year I fell in love with being able to argue…and being in a place where it was okay to explore different opinions.”

— Olivia McCauley

“My freshman year I fell in love with being able to argue without ruining all my relationships, and being in a place where it was okay to explore different opinions,” she said.

“I, myself, have advocated for things that I don’t agree with. That was such a dynamic shift from what I was used to.”

Then McCauley transferred to St. Paul Academy and Summit School for her sophomore year and faced new difficulties.

“When I came into SPA last year, I expected all of my debate skills from one format to transfer over to the other,” she said. “Because I had done fairly well in classic debate, I was in the Advanced Debate I class.”

But since the class dealt with a different format of debate, McCauley was disoriented.

“I felt like all of these people knew exactly what they were doing, and knew that I didn’t,” she said.

“Because I was unsure of my debate abilities as a whole, I didn’t seek out any information on what I could do to improve my debating skills. I think I won four rounds the entire year. That was hard. I wasn’t used to that, and it was really discouraging.”

Another part of her struggle was social pressure from fellow debaters.

“When I actually did anything in class I felt ridiculed. I remember writing a speech and somebody saying to me, ‘Huh. This is actually decent.’ Because of my peers’ reactions, I didn’t feel like there was any point in continuing debate,” McCauley said.

Gender played a role in McCauley’s growing doubt as well.

“I stopped wearing my glasses to tournaments because I’d walk into room and see a male judge checking me out, and it would just throw me off,” she said. “Those were kind of things that you have to contend with, being female in debate. Had I not had the support of female debaters, and from Assistant Coach Bilal [Askari] and Mr. Fones, I would’ve quit because of the gender-related issues in debate.”

But slowly, things started to improve.

My real success is learning that I am strong, finding the persistence to make myself heard, and learning how to help my female peers do the same.”

— Olivia McCauley

“It was an off-hand remark by one of my classes that there was going to be some evidence sharing in the debate room after school,” she said. “That single practice changed the entire way I looked at debate.”

That night, Bilal Askari, the assistant debate coach, gave McCauley a detailed explanation of the format.

“I was finally in a place where I could ask questions and not feel so threatened. That played a really big role in feeling comfortable enough to actually ask questions in a way that I had previously not felt,” she said.

This boost in confidence contributed to her later success at National Qualifiers.

Through the challenges and triumphs of her debate journey, McCauley’s offers words of advice for fellow competitors seeking success.

“If you want to be effective, you will have to learn how to respectfully challenge your peers, but more importantly, you will challenge yourself,” she said.

As for gender issues, McCauley believes that determination is key.

“If you are a woman, your debate experience will be different. You will be challenged, in the same ways as your male peers, but there will also be times when you are ignored, written off, and excluded,” McCauley said. “If you can commit to making yourself heard, winning others respect, and proving your skeptics wrong, I have no doubt that you will come out a smarter, stronger woman, fiercer, and truly confident in yourself.”

All in all, McCauley’s debate experiences have made her more tenacious and confident.

“I don’t see my success residing in how many rounds I won, or qualifying for nationals,” McCauley said. “My real success is learning that I am strong, finding the persistence to make myself heard, and learning how to help my female peers do the same.”

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