A few years ago, I have retold the story of my (hilarious) last debate competition, literally the last match of it, i.e. the Grand Final, in this post (in Bahasa Indonesia). So, I thought I should also share about my very first competition, which was hilarious in its own right lol
It was back in 2002 and the competition’s name was EDS UI “Founders Trophy”. It is essential to know some important facts about this competition before getting into the story. This competition was a battle royale, where there are no requirements of what kind of institutions may apply. Meaning, you could be a highschool or university team, composite teams from multiple institutions, or even government workers too. You will be pitched against each other in the competition, no distinction, and no mercy.
Here I must mention that this was during my freshman year as a high school student. AND, remember, this was my very first competition. I teamed up with Kak Yasmin Prihatini, who was in her second year. She was the ‘star’ in our school’s debating club, but still a highschool student. So, I hope you guys would understand how intimidating it was for me to even think of entering such a competition.
However, this first round became a very big defining moment and a start of my 14 years involvement in the Indonesian debating community.
The Chamber Set Up
The first round draw was extraordinarily intimidating for me. It was a British Parliamentary competition, so four teams in one chamber (for a short explanation of what the British Parliamentary Debate is like, click here)
My team was Opening Government, and the rest was hell. Opening Opposition was SMAN 34, who was the king of Jakarta’s debating competitions (i.e. the most competitive province at the time, probably until today). It was always them and SMA Canisius College who dominated competitions at the time (until a least a few years after 2002), and SMA 34 usually wins over Canisius. It was Intan Hadijah (she was also doing her first competition) together with Richard “Riki” Anggoro (a legendary senior of SMA 34), both of them ended up entering Fakultas Hukum UI and debated in the EDS of UI as well. And this was the weakest among the rest.
Closing Government was EDS UI, one of them was Astrid Fina and the other girl I forgot who it was. Finally, Closing Opposition, was Universitas Parahiyangan. I don’t think they were among the very best of university debates in Indonesia at the time, that was mostly UI and STAN (so much that there was actually an article in the Indonesian debating mailing list about why is it always UI and STAN winning). UNPAR was still among the top tier, but that was not the worst part. The team consisted of a girl named Poppy and, to my horror, Franz Bona.
FRANZ BONA WAS MY COACH!
So, there you have it. My first round just had to be against the monster of high school debates, the champion of university debates, and my own coach. As if there I needed more reason to be intimidated.
The Best Definition
For many years, the EDS UI Founders Trophy had a custom. For the motion (i.e. debate topic) launch, the announcer would first announce a book prize that will be given to the best speaker of that round. The book will be related to the motion. That fateful day, that fateful round, it was Ahmad “Bubu” Sukarsono (one of the founders of EDS UI) who took the stage. The book announced was “Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal” by Eric Schlosser. After announcing the book, they would explain a bit about the motion before telling us what it actually is. I don’t remember exactly what Bubu explained, but it was definitely about fast food chains, franchise, unhealthy lifestyle, obesity, something along those lines.
Then Bubu announced the motion that I will never forget my whole life:
This House Would Halt Ronald McDonald’s March
Most competitions at the time gave 30 minutes for case building (i.e. to discuss internally between the teammates), but this competition only gave 15 minutes. All teams (perhaps around 30-40 teams) are divided into chambers of four teams where they will have their matches at the same time. This 15 minutes includes walking to the respective chambers.
My team was Opening Government, but I was not the first speaker (i.e. “the Prime Minister”) who’s job includes to define the motion from which the debate will be based on. Nonetheless, Kak Yasmin was a very sweet old friend of mine whom I have known since elementary school. She was senior, but she encouraged me to start our brainstorming.
It was fate that my very first contribution to the Indonesian debating community was a definition. A very special one.
I said that “Ronald McDonald” was such an American thing, as in, a symbol of its economic grip around the globe and also the symbol of the American lifestyle. Meaning, Ronald McDonald is basically the symbol of the United States of America (or at least that’s what I thought at the time as a high school freshman). The term “march” definitely does not refer to the month, but it is typically a type of walking that was not always but most commonly associated with soldiers.
So, “Ronald McDonald’s March”, according to me, should be understood as “American Soldiers“
This competition took place around the end of 2002, which was the hottest moments during the build up to the Iraq invasion (which was all over the news around the time of the competition).
It was Kak Yasmin who delivered the definition, as she was first speaker. My definition idea was definitely a twisted one, but she really liked it and used it. Can you imagine the reaction of everyone else when they heard our definition, basically changing the debate from what was assumed to be a fastfood related one into a US-Iraq war debate?
Everyone’s mouth dropped in shock and horror. Except Franz Bona. He was laughing. He later admitted that the reason he laughed was because “untung gw paling terakhir” (he was the last speaker of the Closing Opposition, i.e. “Opposition Whip).
The Defining Moment Ahead
Nobody will believe me if I say this: I was not someone confident speaking in front of public. So imagine how I felt when I was walking towards what felt like my doom.
Up to the start of that match, it appeared to be building up to be a very traumatic first debate for me. Such a terrifying type of competition open for very strong veterans of all levels compared to me doing my very first competition as a high school freshman, and such a very terrible draw for my first match. While waiting for the motion launch, I felt so pressured and thought that this is so going to be my first and last debating competition.
However, I will never forget Kak Yasmin’s encouragement to ask my opinion and actually use my crazy idea. That really boosted my morale. I think I performed OK for a first time, but nothing extraordinarily special. The ‘icing on top of the cake’ was that my team actually was on the ‘winning’ side. Out of the four teams, we ranked SECOND. Ranking first was Team UI, fourth was SMA 34, but most importantly UNPAR ranked third. I somehow beat my own coach!
My spirit was very high after that round, so that I did not take it too hard when my team was killed when we faced even stronger teams in the second round, but we took it well and marched on the third round. Our team had its ups and downs until we completed all five preliminary rounds.
At the end of the day my team was the highest ranking highschool team and the only highschool team managing to break to the Quarter Final Round. We were immediately destroyed in that round and eliminated, but it was a very fun debate. I do not remember the motion, but I do remember that I tried to stand up to give a Point of Information (i.e. interruption) but the chair looked like this:
What would happen if you stand up without first getting out of the chair? Yep, the chair will be stuck on you and rise together with you. Everyone laughed and the current speaker (I think it was someone from Team STAN) actually forgot his train of thought. So it was on that note that I ended my very first competition.
Remembering Where I Started
What seemed to be brewing into a very traumatic disaster turned into a very amazing and heart-lifting experience. I attended many debating competitions after that. I did not stop at participating as debater, rather my later debating career (in university) was dominated by judging and coaching various schools and universities, then the Yogyakarta Provincial Team and eventually the Indonesian national team. It brought me to places, and many non-debate related experiences and qualifications that would not have been possible had I not gone through this.
It was in 2013 that I participated (and won, alhamdulillah) my last competition as I retold in the post I linked to at the start. Then it was in 2016 that I finally left my position as Jogja Debating Forum’s Head of Advisory Council. I drafted the text of my resignation while, in the same text, appointing the new JDF’s Head of Advisory Council, i.e. Sekartiyasa Kusumastuti.
But this was not a merely a resignation from an organization structural position. My mind was set that, with this resignation, I am putting my 14 years debating career behind. So, while drafting said text, it was very emotional as my memories of my debating life flashed through my mind. I had spent much of (and even defined!) my life around debating that it felt very surreal that I was finally moving on.
Those memory flashes brought me back to EDS UI Founders Trophy 2002. I am writing this twenty years later in 2022, and I am never forgetting how much that competition meant to me and defined my life today.
Lecturer at the International Law Department, Fakultas Hukum, Universitas Gadjah Mada
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