The skills I learned in my high school speech and debate club have been useful in all areas of my life.

As a young child I was always very shy. When I talked, I seldom looked people in the eye, and I did a lot of mumbling. Today this has changed. I am now able to speak with confidence and in front of large groups of people. While there are a lot of factors that have contributed to my learning to be a better speaker, I consider my high school speech and debate club to be the number one factor.

When my homeschool co-op began offering a speech and debate class during my junior year of high school, I wasn't sure what to expect, but being a determined student, I signed up to take it. During that yearlong class I gave several speeches and debated twice. It was during this class that I realized that I actually really liked speaking.

The next year my co-op began to compete in the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association (NCFCA). The speech and debate tournaments I attended during my senior year of high school are some of my fondest memories. That year I competed in four tournaments, including the nationals.

I will never forget the excitement of those tournaments. It wasn't until ten minutes before the debate that we would find out who we would compete against, and what side of the debate we would argue.

It was speaking and debating at these tournaments that taught me to think and speak on my feet. I learned that I had to know both sides of an argument to win. I also learned to look critically at an argument to find strengths and weaknesses.

I can honestly say that speech and debate have changed me forever. I grew from a shy little boy into a confident adult.

The skills I learned in speech and debate were crucial when I later interviewed for a job at the Missouri Attorney General's Office. I was offered the job and became the first high school student to work at the Springfield location. Working at the attorney general's office allowed me to further my communication skills.

In December of 2009 I traveled to India as the assistant director of a mission team. During our 16-hour flight, the director turned to me and said, "Oh, by the way, Jonathan. You will be speaking when we get to India." This was where the rubber met the road. If it weren't for my speech and debate experience, I would have panicked and most likely told the director I couldn't do it. Instead, I said okay and began to prepare myself to speak.

During our time in India, we held large assemblies for Dalits. The Dalits are a group of people in India who are told by their society that they are worthless. In some parts of India they are even told that they don't have a soul. During each of our assemblies, I was able to stand before hundreds of Dalits and tell them that they have been lied to and that they do have great worth. The chance to speak to the Dalits was, without a doubt, the greatest opportunity I have been given.

Without the lessons and skills I learned in speech and debate, I wouldn't be where I am today. Being able to speak with confidence has opened many doors in my life. Today I am passionate about what I believe, and I am willing to stand up for my beliefs if the need arises.

Speech and debate did more than teach me how to speak; they prepared me to face certain obstacles and challenges head-on, with confidence and assurance.

Looking for a group to get your students involved? The NCFCA is a speech and debate organization hosted by Home School Legal Defense Association; it would be a good resource for finding out about groups in your local area.

Jonathan Wahl, a homeschool graduate, is the owner of Jon Wahl Photography. Jonathan is currently a junior at College of the Ozarks, where he is majoring in video production. Jonathan can be reached at with any questions or comments.

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