Countdown to Qatar

In a little over 48 hours, I’ll be saying sayonara to the snow banks, farewell to the frigid temperatures, adios to the Arctic cold.

No, I’m not heading south to some all-inclusive resort. Nope. I’ll be heading east. To the Middle East, in fact. Doha, Qatar, to be exact.

Qatar?

Yes. Qatar.

For a holiday?

Not quite.

I’ll be representing Canada as one of the country’s official adjudicators at the 22nd World Schools Debating Championships.

Since 1988, the World Schools Debating Championships have been held annually, hosting high school students from around the world in what is tantamount to the Olympics of High School Debating. I had the privilege of debating for Canada at the competition ten years ago – and instantly fell in love with the event, its ideals, and the people it brought together.

My involvement with debating and public speaking, however, started much, much earlier.

I delivered my first speech at the tender age of six and, frankly, never looked back. By junior high, I was routinely participating in local debating competitions; by senior high, competitions across Canada. (Editor’s note: Self-congratulatory statements to follow. Apologies in advance.) I enjoyed a fair bit of success, too: I was named the Canadian champion in 1999, won the World Public Speaking and Debating Championships held in Cyprus in 2000, and, as I’ve just mentioned, earned a place on the Canadian High School Debating Team representing Canada at the World Schools Debating Championships in Pittsburgh, USA that same year.

Pittsburgh. Not the most pleasant of places in February, I know. But the competition: it was extraordinary.

The caliber of my competitors and the depth of knowledge required to compete on an equal footing with them; the sense of camaraderie that came from living, working and debating amongst a 5-person team; the young people – just like me! – that had come from every conceivable corner of the planet to debate in an atmosphere of respect, understanding, friendship and in the spirit of healthy competition: I had never previously experienced anything like it in my life – and I was hooked.

So, when I graduated from high school and went on to university, rather than continuing my own debating career I chose instead to assist future Canadian teams and began my second career as an international judge. A decision I’ve never once regretted.

In the ensuing decade I’ve travelled to Singapore, Lima, Stuttgart, Cardiff, Seoul, Washington, Athens, and, in a few days time, Doha.

I’ve met a lot of wonderful people along the way. Judged many outstanding debates (and some less-than-outstanding ones, too). Toured ancient ruins, demilitarized zones and national parliaments. Seen the insides of scores of high school gymnasiums, libraries, lunch rooms and theatres. In short, I’ve had a blast.

But ten years is a long time. And, in this year of new chapters, new beginnings, it’s time to bring this volume of my life – Ade, Kris; Debating and Public Speaking, 2000-2010 – to a close.

Thankfully, I can’t think of a better way to go than with this forthcoming championship, the largest yet; surrounded by friends; in pursuit of such noble goals as free speech and international understanding.

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