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Living in daylight: success and failure

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory or defeat.”

Coming back to school, I often was asked what the best thing I did this summer was. Without a doubt, it was attending the National Speech and Debate Tournament in Indianapolis, Ind., in June. It was also my least favorite part of the summer; I set my expectations too high and wasn’t prepared to deal with not meeting them. I thought I had exited the daylight and the twilight and went into the darkness, but perhaps I didn’t.

This past June, I presented my original oratory, “In Defense of Socialism,” to 12 forensics judges and 36 of the most talented orators from all around the United States. I was among the best of the best. It was thrilling to deliver my ideas to them and to hear their ideas in return. I learned a lot from hearing all the speeches, from speaking techniques they used to the knowledge they spoke about.

At Nationals, each competitor does six preliminary rounds. After these, the 60 highest scoring students move on (or “break,” in S&D terms) to the elimination rounds. All told, there were 250 students competing in oratory.

When they announced the top 60 who had broken to the next level, my name was not on the list. I was absolutely disillusioned at first. What had I done wrong? Was it my topic? Was it my delivery? Where had I ranked, if not in the top 60? Why was it that I had won so many awards in Oregon but didn’t get to advance on the national stage?

Upon checking my ranking later, I discovered that I tied with 11 other students for 151st place. Not bad at all. That’s approximately the 40th percentile. And I was still among the best of the best, but I was still frustrated and disappointed and depressed and scared.

I was scared that I had let my school and my community down. I was scared that I was not being taken seriously and that my ideas were not considered legitimate. I was scared that I had been doing something wrong. I was scared that I had failed.

I examined my fears over what felt like the entire month of July, with my parents helping me along the way. They showed me some essential perspective about this situation: Nobody gets everything they want all the time, no matter how hard they work and how much they believe. Especially in something as subjective as judging public speaking, there is only so much I can control.

I will be the first to admit that I enjoy having control over my life. I am used to pushing to ensure that I succeed. This was probably the first major situation in my life where I pushed and pushed and still didn’t meet my expectations. Everyone learns this lesson at one point – many kids learn it in sports, but I was never an athlete.

Speech and debate has effectively taught me how to win, but now, it has taught me how to accept defeat.

I’m ready to enter this season with hope and passion to keep doing as well as I possibly can. I’m entering a new year with a new speech, a new group of teammates and a new readiness to accept that I can’t always win.

But though I’m checkered by failure, I refuse to live in the twilight. I will live in the sun.

Elise Brown is a senior at West Linn High School.



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