Community, Debating, and the Value of Talking to Strangers

By Randy Chang

This past January, I boarded a coach bus with a group of other UCC debaters to head to Queen’s University’s debating tournament. The three days included gruelling rounds of debate on topics we knew next to nothing about, extraordinarily early wakeup calls, and shoddy Kingston weather. Justin (my debate partner) and I fared well, reaching the grand final of the tournament.

I’d like to attribute that success to some abstract conception of skill or intelligence. Unfortunately, that’d be egotistical and false. What got me through the experience was the community I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by. In round 6, I was on the verge of falling asleep until Justin energized me with his odd passion for economic sanctions. In quarter finals, we ate breakfast while deciphering what the parole system was. In semi finals, where our arguments didn’t even make sense to me, Justin mixed well placed jokes with facts about China to advance us to the finals. 

What was odd, however, was that a complete stranger from September turned into one of my best friends. Sure, I knew of Justin’s legendary debate skill, but I fell quiet when we sat at the same table or passed each other in the halls. But I mustered up the guts and asked him one day if he’d be interested in partnering for McGill’s debate tournament. He said no. However, he did agree to partner for a practice round later that afternoon. Since then, we’ve won a few tournaments and lost many. We swept provincials, only to lose at nationals. As we gear up for the last tournaments of our junior careers, I’ve reflected on the journey we’ve had, and I found that there were two things to learn.

  1. Talk to “Strangers”

In this community at UCC, as with any diverse community filled with different hobbies, interests, and fundamentally different people, we often self-segregate. Boys are classified as athletes, drama kids, etc. To be clear, it’s not nearly as dividing at UCC than it typically would be. However, apart from shallow interactions, it’s uncommon that we look beyond our social circles. I urge you all to change that. I reached out and found a debate partner, a friend, and one of the funniest people I know. If I didn’t change my route – if I stayed in the linear storyline of athletics and LD runs – I would’ve been robbed of a friend. Talk to people who you wouldn’t normally, they’re cool people who got into the same school, and at worst it’s a conversation where you might learn something new.

  1. Credit to the Community

The fascinating and unique thing about UCC is the community’s support. We’re a community that enjoys various successes in all kinds of fields, and I would posit that is because of our community’s unconditional reinforcement. Behind CISAA championships are logistical co-ordinators and hardworking coaches. Award-winning music is driven by talented conductors and loving family. Justin and my success wasn’t just us. Behind our successes is a club of history and success. We stood on the backs of dedicated faculty and staff, a coach that shaped our worldview and our persuasion. More importantly, we stood on a tradition of excellence sculpted by UCC debaters, past and present.  But why does any of this feel-good community stuff matter? 

We face a difficult time right now. But part of getting through it is recognizing that we have a community behind us. Our song is titled “Never Walk Alone.” As we anticipate challenges in the coming days, we can brave the storm together – being cognizant of the community and ready to draw on others for support will be crucial. 

At Queen’s, on a bleak Sunday afternoon, the judges of the grand final were ready to announce who they had decided to win the debate. The panel announced, on a 7-0 decision, our names as the champions of Queen’s. I was paralyzed, confused, and happy. But what snapped me out of it was the arms of a now graduated Joseph Wu hugging me from behind, and the fact that I was surrounded by a cheering section of UCC debaters. I looked over at Justin, whom a few months ago I was scared to speak to. I’m infinitely grateful that I chose to speak to a stranger And as we walked down to retrieve our awards, I walked with a brother and a community supporting me.