I thought back on comment last week when I opened the email from my High School’s alumni office and learned that my HS Forensics coach, Andrew Quigley, had just died.
It was quite a surprise because I can’t imagine Mr. Quigley was more than 10 years older than I. And, yes, nearly 25 years later, I still think of him at Mr. Quigley, and I do most adults I met prior to turning 18. But that’s not the point I’m making here.
I remember Mr. Quigley as a smart, nice, and patient guy. He had to be to put up with our team.
He started teaching at our school in 1987 when I was a Junior. That first year, he brought back the Archbishop Molloy Speech and Debate team after a multi-year hiatus. I don’t know why he decided to do that; it never occurred to me to ask. But that decision had a huge impact on my life.
Have you ever stopped to think about how the decisions that other people make for their own reasons can completely change the direction of your life?
I joined the team, and meet some great people. I met new people from my school and from neighboring schools we competed with in the Brooklyn Queens Catholic Forensics League and beyond.
That team is the reason I spent 2 weeks in 1988 at the Baylor University Speech and Debate camp in Waco, TX. I’d spend my entire life in NY up to that point, and on that trip I met people from entirely different cultures – the south and Colorado.
I learned to dramatically read poetry and prose. I learned to support and oppose a positions from both sides and to depersonalize conflict. I learned to process and dissect arguments. And I learned to think quickly.
We had a lot of fun at tournaments, even when we had to pile way too many people into one car to get there. We were a team and we had the team jackets to prove it.
And Mr. Quigley’s decision to start that team led me to one of the most important and best decisions in my life. That was the decision to go to college in a place many of classmates thought was imaginary – Helena, MT. I learned about and attended the school because of the Forensics team.
The skills I use in my job are the ones I learned on that college Speech and Debate team. The stuff I learned in class has less impact day-to-day.
Most of the people I’m still in regular touch with from High School are from the Forensics world. Most of my friends from College are also from the speech team. And the speech team is the reason I know everyone else that met there. I can’t imagine what path my career and social life post-college might have taken had I not gone down this path. And since things have turned out pretty well, I’m not sure I’d want to imagine it.
I guess there are a couple of key take aways from all this:
- It's cliché, but teachers have a huge impact on the direction of our lives. I wonder if Mr. Quigley had any clue as to the path he set me on.
- Speech and Debate (Forensics) is a fantastic activity for kids to pursue. The logical, social, communications and team work skills they can learn are invaluable in the future.
RIP, Mr. Quigley. And thanks from bringing that team to life.