YW Spotlight: Aspiring Debater

Name: Amanda Tonks
Location: Draper, UT


Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m seventeen and the oldest of four kids. I have two little sisters and a little brother, all of whom I absolutely adore. I’m currently in the top choir at my school as well as taking a couple of AP classes. I teach two novice debate classes and I regularly medal at local and state debate tournaments. Two summers ago, I started designing Novice Debate curriculum to better prepare students for the demanding tournament schedules. My team and I then recruited heavily to grow the debate program.

What led you to your interest in debate?

In all honesty, the reason I joined debate was so that I could finally beat my attorney of a father in an argument, which I still haven’t succeeded in! I joined the class expecting it to be just a bunch of teenage kids sitting around and discussing polemical issues but what I found was an entire subculture that I didn’t even know existed! Apparently debate isn’t just a class, it’s a team event where you compete for prestigious title and medals! I was hooked.

Did you have any specific experiences or impressions that led you to pursue debate?

I’ve always grown up admiring my mom and dad’s concise way of articulating their points. Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to be like them and so taking a speech and debate class seemed like a fairly good place to start.

What strengths and skills do you have that have helped you to design the Novice Debate curriculum and recruit additional people to the debate program?

Above all else, I’ve come to value optimism and determination. There were times where we didn’t even know if our team was going to exist next year. Brand-new coaches, all our experienced varsity graduated, and our little presidency feeling very inadequate and ill-equipped to deal with all of the sudden changes. Throughout all of this, we retained a hopeful optimism that we could prevail and hopefully build a team strong enough to survive the next year. We held presidency and captains meetings all throughout the summer in hopes of getting a solid basis of what we wanted to accomplish before all of our novices came in at the beginning of the year. I had friends tease me that I was like a captain on a sinking ship trying to bail the water out. Futile and idiotic. Although that may be, we kept bailing. We pressed forward in the hopes that things would be better. I don’t think that there is anything more important than keeping your sights set forward and keeping an optimistic outlook on the future ahead. There were so many times when I probably should’ve just thrown my arms up in the air and quit. But that determination and optimism is what kept me going and it’s what’s keeping me going through this next year!

Who has supported you while participating in the debate program?

My dear presidency members, coaches and captains have all been such a strength to me and to the rest of the team. When I was a novice my debate partner, Monty, taught me everything I know. We’d stay after school until seven or eight at night, running practice rounds and redoing speeches. The dedication and efforts of all the varsity debaters before me has been a huge support. My parents have been wonderful with helping fund my tournament trips as well as going to a two-week debate institute up at Weber State!

Which aspects of debate have you found most challenging?

The circumstances for our team have been less than optimal. Before this year we haven’t had very much support from the parents or the school. Since debate isn’t necessarily a spectator sport, it’s been really hard to get people more involved in it. I’ve unfortunately had quite a few struggles that are solely based off of the fact that I’m a girl. Judges have called me harsh words saying that I was “too bossy,” or “commandeering” even though my male partner was being just as assertive and direct, if not more so! It gets really discouraging at times to have something so intrinsic as gender used as a “disadvantage” against me!

Which aspects of debate have been the most rewarding?

Actually the challenge is what makes debate the most rewarding! The event that I do (policy debate) is very esoteric and hard to excel at. We jokingly refer to sending a brand new novice into varsity division as a sort of “baptism by fire,” that they have to undergo. Policy debate is set up in a way where you learn the most by getting beaten down a couple of times in rounds and then gradually having to fight your way through the ranks. As a novice that seemed like such a daunting and insurmountable endeavor! Standing on the other side of it I have a lot of respect for an extracurricular event that isn’t made up of talent but hard work and tenacity. I’m adequately gifted when it comes to art and singing which are two other things that I love! But I have never had to fight so hard, tooth and nail, to excel at something. It taught me to persistently stick with things that are important and worth doing well.

What did you learn about yourself from participating in this program?

I’ve learned that I’m a lot more capable and strong then I gave myself credit for. Going through nine hour and a half long rounds with minimal sleep, a sick partner, and a mountain of stress on my shoulders, and taking third place anyway? That has taught me that I can do great things. Confidence and composure are quintessential elements to success in anything.

What are your plans for future schooling and employment?

I’m hoping to go to either UVU, USU or BYU so that I can major in psychology and then minor in philosophy. I want to go into psychology (what specific field, I’m not sure of yet) and while I’m working towards my doctorate, I’ll be doing internships with different clinics as well as being an assistant coach for a debate team. I want to help people and make a difference. I’ve been through some fairly trying things in my life that have left some pretty nasty scars but I’ve come through that! My hope is that I can help others navigate rough circumstances and feel whole again.

Any other thoughts or advice would you give to young women?

Life is going to do its best to beat you down. It will throw everything it possibly can in order trip you up and make you stumble. Don’t count the amount of times you slip up but the number of times you pick yourself up. Keep moving forward. Even when you don’t feel that you’re progressing at all and that everything is just a stagnant wash, don’t give up. You are too brilliant and too wonderful to let yourself be a victim of circumstance!

3 Comments on “YW Spotlight: Aspiring Debater

  1. I can feel this young woman’s strength. We need more of you.

  2. I love this so much, Amanda! Almost as much as I love you. Your strength in the face of difficulty and your grace under pressure inspire me.

Follow by Email