Note To Student: Your Subject Matter Was Not Appropriate

Beau's picture

This school year I've come to equally anticipate and dread the Monday after a debate tournament mainly because we spend the class going over the judge's scoring sheets, with our teacher interpreting the results to us.

After giving my speech about gay athlete's I really didn't know what to expect, even though I knew my score had to somewhat low. Could I have been in fourth place, missing third by a point or two? Or did I just suck?

Like always our teacher handed us our results and asked us to place them face down until all were handed out, something he likes to do to hear the expressions when we see the scoring sheets for the first time.

I had no expression when I saw mine. I just went numb.

I had high scores on presentation and diction, but where I failed was on subject matter. Literally. All three judges gave me very low scores on that, essentially keeping me from placing.

There were comments made on two of the sheets:

"Your subject matter was not appropriate for your grade level"

"Topics like the one you chose are best saved for high school or collegiate debates"

I couldn't believe it.

My teacher talked about the competition, giving constructive criticism and praise for our efforts, then he said something that almost made me jump out of my seat:

"Beau, would you be willing to recite the judges comments for your classmates?"

I went up to the podium and read the comments, and I think my classmates were as surprised as me. We spent the last part of the period debating that, and our homework assignment was to give a brief speech either supporting or contradicting the judge's comments the next day in class.

When the period was over my teacher told me that he was proud of my efforts, that this would teach me a valuable lesson.

Those words hung in my mind for the rest of the day, and when I had dinner with my parents that night I didn't say a word, I just ate (I have a simple relationship with food-I see it I eat it!).

My father asked me what was wrong, so I told him about the judge's comments, and my mother dropped her fork and just looked at me.

Oh shit, I should of kept my mouth shut.

What my mother said floored me:

"What you said probably offended some people, I'm sure you thought about that before you gave that speech?"

My parents started fighting, and I had to sit there and take it (in my house you don't leave the table until excused). After a while my mother got up and went into the kitchen for coffee, and my father told me that I should go to my room.

I got up from my seat and he kissed me on my forehead like he does on a regular basis and whispered that everything was going to be all right.

I went to my room, and let my homework absorb my mind, leaving the speech for last. I knew what I needed to say, and wrote the words as quickly as I could. I opened a door that could never be closed again, and now I had to defend myself.

Right before I went to bed there was a knock at my door, and it was my mother. She came in and I could tell she had been crying, and we sat next to each other on the loveseat. She put her arm around me and told me she was sorry, that all of this was just a big surprise to them, that it was quite a bit to take in.

Then she floored me again:

"As tough as this is for us, I just can't imagine what you're going through?"

She hugged me hard and told me she loved me, and I needed to hear her say that. Before she left she told me that my older brother Michael would be here on Sunday and he was bringing a friend. If the weather was good he want to take me out on our boat.

In my excitement I forgot what that Sunday was.

Mother's Day.

Why was my brother bringing a friend over for a family gathering that was as sacred as Christmas or Easter? Was he getting married?

I don't want to write the answer to that yet, but I think most of you know it.



jeff's picture


We never had a debate class/club in our school, that I can recall, but it seems like appropriateness should be pretty clear in advance or something your coach/teacher should have been able to pinpoint in advance.

If an openly gay NFL player kissing his boyfriend after getting drafted is major news this week, it doesn't seem like you're going too obscure for a debate topic.

"You don't know you're beautiful." - Harry Styles

lonewolf678's picture


I think the important thing remains, you went for it, and for better or for worse you still have your integrity because of it. Good on you.