Wednesday, September 5, 2007

JonJon Aberya

Winning by JonJon Aberya

Debate was something that used to scare the shit out of me. I went into those high school tournaments armed with nothing but the latest issue of The Economist while girls in black would pass by holding huge matter binders. Talk about intimidation. The worst part, though, wouldn’t come until the last few seconds before the Chair Adjudicator calls out my turn to speak. My teeth would chatter incessantly, my hands would shake and practically drip with sweat. I would clutch my notes and take a deep breath. I’d exhale, and the exhilaration of the next seven minutes would tell me everything else was worth this moment.

It was a constant inner battle. I had to wrestle with my fears and insecurities, and convince myself that there was something actually gratifying beyond it all. It was a dichotomy demanding the existence of both pain and pleasure in a single activity. It wasn't necessarily about winning the debate. It was that moment when I would feel like I'm actually making sense and what I have to say matters. And for a while, that 7-minute rush kept winning over my anxiety. That is, until frustrations led me to start giving into my fears. I found excuses to pass up tournaments. I found reasons not to train. Ultimately, I doubted that debate was for me.

This picture of how I felt about debate years ago is important in articulating how I feel about my experience in applying to the UP Debate Society. As a freshman, I was curious about the Society. Part of me wanted to get in, but an even bigger part of me just found no reason to even try. Sophomore year came, and the applications all over the University opened again. My curiosity for DebSoc came back. But more than just curiosity, this time I felt challenged. If I tried, could I make it in? Am I really bad in debate, or did I just not try hard enough before? I saw an opportunity, and I took it. I applied.

Honestly, I had to hurdle a lot of problems. Other obligations forced me to have less time with DebSoc than I would have liked, but I tried to make up for it by ensuring that such time was well-spent. I even missed the very first required activity because of a commitment I had made involving my part-time job. I had conflicts with my parents with regards to going home late several times a week, but I guess they saw how serious I was about this, and they learned to deal with it. Eventually, I got into a steady rhythm that somehow managed to go through several typhoons and major exams.

At first I also had trouble making friends with everyone. It’s an org, and I know how important it is to build relationships with everyone. My friends often say I’m outgoing, but I do have difficulty making new acquaintances. It seems unnatural for a debater, but I do admit to being shy around new company. But as the app process progressed, it became easier to let my guard down and to get to know everybody. It was interesting that this org houses a variety of students, making conversation always colorful and rich. As with all new friends, I felt a bit of apprehension in expressing my thoughts about the variety of things talked about, but this couldn’t have been any less of an issue in an org that is so open to different opinions.

My first member-friends, aside from my buddy, were mostly from the Membership and Administration Committee (MAC). It makes sense, because they were the ones I approached when I had questions or concerns. I was actually surprised at how accommodating they were. I guess I had the impression that seniority in orgs was something that was constantly rubbed into applicants’ faces. But it was the opposite with MAC. Of course, I still respected their seniority (and that of all members), but at the same time, they also respected me as an applicant. More than that, they were so supportive and encouraging. I felt their sincerity in wanting to assist all of us apps in passing through this phase. I have to take this chance to make a shout-out to Yang, who among the MAC members I must have badgered the most with all my questions about the app period. Thanks, Yang! I can’t thank you enough.

This also reminds me of the great Bernard Joseph Esposo Guerrero, MAC’s head. Initially, I was intimidated by BJ. We were told of his achievements when he was first introduced to us. I guess a felt like I was too insignificant to matter to him. But the more I got to see of him, the more at ease I became with him. I remember that there was even one time when he told us apps to just approach him if we needed anything. He said it in such a way that emanated sincerity (and maternal love, even) and made me more comfortable in future conversations with him.

BJ also gave me comments on my adjudication once. I was scared out of my wits at the beginning, because this was BJ—BJ, who has become a prominent adjudicator in the australasian debate circuit. And I was, well, me. No adj experience to speak of. But at the end, I was just grateful that he was the one who listened to my adjudication. BJ is like a model of a debater and adjudicator I would want to be in the future. Actually, DebSoc is full of such models. But in that particular instance, BJ gave a lot of important comments, and those became useful in my next debates and adjudications. More than that, I felt that in those few minutes he really wanted to correct how I was doing it to make sure I do better next time. Thanks, Bernard Joseph Esposo Guerrero, you truly are a mentor.

In fact, throughout this app period, that was exactly what I tried to do--just keep on doing better and better. My first few tambay debates were terrible. I felt so rusty and kept stuttering in all my speeches. But around mid-sem, I felt the rust slowly come off. This isn't to say that I'm a fantastic debater now, because I'm far from that. But the battle of anxiety vs. exhilaration raged on inside me every single debate. And the latter was winning.

I remember debating recently in front of a panel with their backs against a glass wall. I saw my reflection while giving my speech. For a split-second, my mind deviated from my speech and, in seeing how I’ve rediscovered an old passion, acknowledged how grateful I am that I applied to DebSoc.

Yes, debate still scares the shit out of me. But that only makes me appreciate more the intense joy I feel when I develop an argument that's actually pretty decent, or make a case-busting POI. Whether I get in or not, I feel like I've already won in this app period. I can only hope that my efforts would ultimately extend to getting the grand prize: more years with the Society.

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