A junior at Taylor University, Veronica Toth continues to be involved with the wonderful members of the Ethics Bowl team, as well as Taylor’s literary magazine. She has been published in undergraduate literature magazines Parnassus and Catfish Creek, and is currently acting as the creative writing intern for The Other Journal, run by The Seattle School.
The arguments I’ve memorized swim in my head like goldfish, their fins and tails slipping past each other too quickly for me to distinguish.
The Taste of Belonging
The saying goes that each time you speak in public, you become a little less nervous. At this current moment, I am certain that is a lie. My suit jacket is already damp, and I keep sipping water because I don’t know what else to do with my hands, which are cold and stiff (my circulation seems to halt in times of stress). In five minutes, we’ll pull out blank notebook paper and debate solely from what we remember.
We’ve traveled an hour to get to Marian University, a pristine Catholic campus that is hosting thirteen other teams for today’s regional competition. I joined my college’s Ethics Bowl team last year as a freshman because I missed the camaraderie of high school debate. Our team discussions are intellectual and electric, and I love spending time with people who make me think so deeply. But here I’m the youngest, an unobtrusive English major in a group of opinionated philosophers. Often I feel more like the audience than part of the team.
Sitting at a long table in a cold classroom: Mark on my left, Kasey and Jess on my right. The four of us comprise one of three mini-teams that our university has registered in this competition. Although these people can be intimidating, they have become some of my closest friends during my time in Ethics Bowl. Mark’s greatest joy is to instigate academic debate. Jess hides his kindness under a wellspring of sarcasm. Kasey is conservative and impassioned and charismatic. We’ve spent the past few weeks completely immersed in preparation for this competition. Instead of going back to the dorm and watching movies with friends, we’ve put in late nights at the library to debate controversial topics for hours on end. Together, we’ve prepared positions on fifteen ethical dilemmas. Of these fifteen cases, I am responsible for four. I’ve been pushing myself to talk more, to have more opinions, to research until I know my cases completely by heart. I want to impress these intelligent people that I’ve come to deeply respect.
In the cold classroom, the steel of public speaking has been slipping gradually over my consciousness. At this moment, nothing matters but sheer focus. The goldfish slow in my mind. I can see each individual scale with perfect clarity.
We stare across the room at the opposing team, and in slow motion the moderator unfolds the case to announce it. It’s one of mine.
We are allotted sixty seconds to prepare our presentation. I mentally sift through the points I want to make. When prep time is up, I spend eight minutes talking about organ donation, feeling the momentum of research and memorization making me eloquent. When I finish, my teammates nod silent approval, sending discreet grins down the long table. I wait for the opposing team to give a rebuttal. Then, the four of us give a quick defense of our position and answer questions from the judges. We repeat the exercise (presentation, rebuttal, defense) with another case presented by the opposing team, and then round one is finished. My part in the day’s presentation is probably over, which is a relief. There are only two more chances for our team to present, and the likelihood that one of those will involve another case I’ve prepared is small.
We are warmed up in our second round, facing another team and a new panel of judges.
Wired on the intoxication of argument, we wait for our case to be announced.
It’s one of mine – again.
I talk about legal issues of consent this time. Surely I’m finished speaking for the day. But in the last round, I present again, and I don’t bother to suppress a laugh before I start to speak. Mark and Jess and Kasey join in during the rebuttal, backing up my arguments. Nerves gone, I’m exhilarated with a feeling of capability, but also something warmer – a feeling of finally finding a place.
All of us take team pictures in the golden November air, and I hug the people who have, for a year, encouraged me to speak and told me I was worth listening to. I can’t stop smiling. We’ve qualified for nationals! But the sense of belonging, not of victory, is what is seeping through my skin.
We stop for ice cream on the way back and somehow convince the Coldstone Creamery worker to put a few scoops of vanilla ice cream right in our trophy. We all grab a spoonful, posing for a shot.
A few weeks after the competition, I change my cover photo on Facebook. Now eleven college students in suit jackets beam up at me from the screen, brandishing spoons. I look back sometimes and smile, remembering what it tastes like to belong.
Editor's Note: The Taylor University Ethics Bowl team took second place in the Midwest Regional Ethics Bowl competition on November 1, 2014 which qualifies them for the national competition in Costa Mesa California on February 22, 2015. Best of luck to the team!