Thursday, September 28, 2017

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on how debate class motivated her

Today, we think of Senator Elizabeth Warren as a fierce public speaker, one well able to take part in the debates her job requires. But, as we've noted before, she also has been a nervous public speaker, and sometimes silenced publicly. And it turns out that her public speaking today has its roots in her high school days.

That's what she shared with David Axelrod in an interview on his podcast The Axe Files. Public speaking started out as her high school skill of last resort, and maybe a ticket to college, but it turned into a passion. From the interview:
Senator Warren: When I started high school was when I really started seeing the kids, how many of them were college-bound, how many smart kids there were in school and that’s when, that’s when I got my chance.  And my chance was debate.  I, I didn’t belong anywhere in high school.  I guess I’m like a lot of kids.  You know, I was always tall.  I was as tall then as I am now.  I was even skinnier, and awkward and knew my parents didn’t have much, not as much as most of the other kids in that high school.  And I had no place where I belonged.  I couldn’t, I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t join the chorus, I couldn’t play a musical instrument, I couldn’t, couldn’t join the band.  I tried softball and got hit in the face like every time. And I…  
David Axelrod: Good preparation for politics. 
Senator Warren: Exactly, No kiddin’, man.  The ball just, bang!.  Right in the face, right in the face.  And so I ended up in speech class, I, because I… it always kinda seemed like to me, speech, and, and  I don’t say this…all the speech majors can stop listening for one sec…it like seemed I didn’t need like, any talent.  All I really need, which is some grit.  And it was always scary to stand up in front of a bunch of people but you just stand up and do it.  And I really didn’t have to stay on key or catch the ball before it hit me in the face.  And from there I got exposed to, to debate.  And again, I just felt like OK, the one thing I got goin’ for me is man, I can sink my teeth in and hang on to an argument.  I learned that I could even think on my feet.  And debate was my chance.  It was my chance to get in there with the smart kids and the kids whose parents were getting them ready for college, and, and to compete, to be part of it.  And for that, I’ll always be grateful.  
David Axelrod: And you, on your own initiative, because your, your mom was skeptical about the notion of you going to college.  She didn’t think that was worth thinking about or attainable.    
Senator Warren: Very.  Well look, she was skeptical even about debate.  I mean, she pointed out to me on a pretty regular basis that boys don’t like girls who argue.  And my mother thought, and, and God bless her, she thought my best chance was to marry a good provider.  That that would be what would keep me safe for the rest of my life. And every time I didn’t move in that direction, every time I talked about how I wanted to be a schoolteacher, every time I talked about, you know, I’m going to this debate tournament this weekend, every time I pushed back, my mother would remind me.   
That continued even when Warren, on her own, decided to apply for colleges with debate programs. Her mother fought back, hard, until her father urged that they let Elizabeth try.

It turned out there was a long delay in Warren's eventual college career, thanks to marriage and childbirth. But that interest in debate has certainly paid off. You'll find more about Warren's pursuit of public speaking in her memoir, This Fight is Our Fight.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Tim Pierce)

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