Essay of the Week: “From Success in Slippers to the Proud Girl in Pink”

By Devin Leonard

Blood red letters screamed:  “Be happy your mom chose life.”

The sign hit me across the face. I have visited dozens of schools for debate tournaments but had never seen one with anti abortion posters covering the walls.  I wanted to rip up the signs but reminded myself I was not at this all-boys school to fight walls. I was there to debate the issues: Are private prisons viable? Should the government mandate police body cams?

As usual, during the break between topics, I slid out of my heels and into slippers so I could walk as fast as the guys in order to be included in conversations about the session. In the midst of the discussions, the debate coach of the hosting school approached me:

“Sweetheart, you know this is not a sleepover,” he said, eyeing my shoes.

I ignored him with my attention settled heavily on prisons and police body cams. A few hours later, that coach was at the podium. The tabulation staff handed him a piece of paper with the winners’ names highlighted.

“Devin Leonard,” he announced.

His stunned face said it all–resembling my own shock at seeing those posters. I ran onto the stage– in those slippers– to accept the tall trophy.

I did not tremble at all, unlike five years ago:

“Devin Leonard!”

I wanted to disappear when Mrs. Ciccatelli, the principal,  called me to the front of the auditorium. I was not in trouble. In fact, I received five academic awards at my fifth grade graduation. But still, I wanted to escape. I felt the eyes of everyone in the room turn toward me and the cameras kept snapping.

That was it. I was shy but driven to overcome being so afraid. After graduation, I decided  to do something about this problem. I enrolled in an acting class that summer to try to battle my shyness. However it was the birth of my passion for debate in 8th grade that rescued me from the need to silence my voice.

When I fell in love with debate, I could no longer be shy. In my 8th grade English class we staged a debate over bodily autonomy. I fell in love with being entranced with the countless articles for research. On debate day, I was prepared with research that transformed that shy fifth grade girl. I found my home in high school by following my teacher’s advice.

“You should join the debate team in high school.”

Through debate, I have learned that preparation is my strongest weapon against my old struggles with shyness and confidence. I always rush to tournament websites the second the debate packet of bills is released and immediately go to Murph-search, a website created to filter in only scholarly articles. Debate topics vary– banning private prisons, increasing sanctions against Russia– and my method adapts. For Russia,  I read an article from the Brookings Institute and even a brief published by Chatham House. Step 2? Searching for more recent articles published by The Washington Post, Cato Institute and other sources. Then it is time to create my document, dividing claims and warrants into affirmative and negative arguments.

Shyness aside, debate posed a new challenge– Congressional Debate. It was considered the Good Ol’ Boys Club but I was determined to debate in Congress rounds and began doing so in my sophomore year. I am taking a bold stand against those fears of being seen. As a senior I have decided to trade in my dark suits– intended to help me blend in with the guys– for a blush pink suit to wear at tournaments. Me. The girl who once trembled when she heard her name embraces standing out. This pink suit is more than an ode to my persistence. Whether I am wearing slippers or a pink suit, when it comes time to stand, I will be heard.


Devin Leonard, a graduate of Montville Township High School, is a freshman at American University.

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