Even Here, There’s Growth


Genevieve Olson

Genevieve Olson at the AVHS graduation parade.

I stood up from my seat, adjusted my skirt, gathered my notes, pushed in my chair, and approached the podium at the front of the room.

I stared closely at my notes as I carefully placed them on the podium. I looked up at the class froze.

I knew right then it was a losing battle.

I was sitting in my eighth-grade communications class waiting for class to begin. It was fifth period and the room was full of post-lunch chatter. I didn’t have any close friends in the class, so I sat at my seat quietly waiting for something interesting to happen.

There were a lot of guys in my class,  immature and opinionated as usual.

There was a handful of polite, (white) preppy girls who’s gigantic friend group I was trying to join. I had scored about 10/40 of them already, I was slowly working on the others.

Two of the girls had sixth period science with me and they seemed to like me then. Fifth period, however, they had their real friends to chat with (fun fact, teens will pretend they’re friends with you when you’re their best option in a class of 30 students, but that doesn’t mean you have an actual connection, so don’t be fooled). If that isn’t the most middle-school thing ever, I don’t know what is.

Later on I decided to join up with the guys for group formation. They were immature, but not dumb. They avoided drama and had good ideas. They needed “a girl” to straighten a few things out, and that’s exactly what I provided. I must say, It was a strategic move for a couple of middle schoolers. We ended up being one of the most effective teams in the class. We got along and got things done.

Definitely one of my proudest victories in the class.

But like a cheesy self-help poster, that wouldn’t have been possible without experiencing my most devastating loss months before.

During the winter trimester of 8th grade, all communications classes started to prepare for debates. We researched a debate topic, found a partner, found two opponents, decided on a topic, and chose sides. Then the research process began…

My partner was an acquaintance with whom I barely knew. She was bright though, so I was excited to have her by my side.

From what I remember, I shared a majority amount of the work, finding articles, killing trees, highlighting, and color-coding folders. Although I was working my ass off, my partner was a little more laid back. Nonetheless, when debate day came, we were overly prepared.

My partner was able to catch on to my plans and execute them perfectly on the debate podium because life is unfair like that.

I got nervous, but I approached the podium in my mother’s navy blue blazer and matching skirt, spent a full two minutes giving my argument, and returned to my seat gracefully.

The debate went well.

Turns out, the other team was lacking in a solid argument and evidence, and it was clear to the randomly selected panel of student judges that we were the clear winners.

It was a good day.

If only I hadn’t opened my big go-getter mouth in the earlier weeks, it would’ve been a nice memory to look back on.

But now it’s clouded with a new one.

When my teacher introduced the unit, he told us we were going against our own classmates. Curious, I asked, “Well, what about going against other classes?”

He was thrilled by my idea.

He told me he would check with the other communications teacher (also my 7th grade comm teacher) and get back to me.

Since I kept waiting for a response, I decided to walk up to my 7th grade teacher in the hallway and ask for myself. I felt comfortable taking Initiative and speaking to a former teacher who already had seen me give public speeches. When public speaking is one of your biggest anxieties, there’s comfort in that.

He told me that he has two students who were up for the challenge, but on the condition that we had to switch sides, so now my partner and I were arguing negative rather than affirmative.

It was a challenge, but I took it on.

It was exciting.

I think my 8th grade comm teacher thought so too.

Then my partner decided to dip last second.

So, I scrambled to find someone else because I sure as hell wasn’t going to do it alone. You didn’t really think I was that confident, did you?

I finally found someone, she was actually one of my opponents from the first time around. I was just hoping with my (new) gathered research and her arguments from before, that we could nail this thing.

Throughout the weeks leading up to my 2nd debate, I kept wondering who my opponents were. My opponents in the other class wanted to keep themselves a secret until the day of the debate.

I never thought I’d be reliving this moment as I put it into words…but here I am.

You didn’t think this would be a middle school story without some drama, right?

Here’s the short version:

A girl (who was of the 10 of friends I made from the gigantic group of 40) who I considered at the time to be my (only) closest friend, completely stabbed me in the back and gave my debate notes to my opponent (which somehow she figured out) who also happened to be the guy she was crushing on. They were close friends at the time…

Oh, it gets worse.

I didn’t find out until the DAY OF in my advisory class (2 periods before the debate). She found the courage to tell me herself what she did and how sorry she was.

My sassy pants then confronted her friend/crush while I yelled at him for being a cheater. (To which he claimed he was just glancing at my notes to “get a glimpse” of the articles I was using—which we both knew was complete bullshit.)

I marched over to my 8th grade teacher in rage and panic as I didn’t know what to do next.

His response was the ye old, “So?”

Who cares!”

“It shouldn’t matter that he knows what you’re going to say.”

“You could’ve shown him all your notes and it still wouldn’t matter.”

I got what he was saying, but at that moment, I needed comfort.

“You should be so confident in the case you’ve built, that none of that should matter”

He was right

But A, I had less time to prepare, and B, I was nowhere near as prepared to argue the negative side after crushing my debate arguing the affirmative side.

I walked into my 7th grade teacher’s classroom without nearly the amount of confidence I had the first time around.

The affirmative opened the argument, then it was my turn to approach the podium.

I knew right then it was a losing battle.

My partner became useless. She quite literally didn’t know what was going on and she obviously didn’t give any effort. She forgot to excuse herself from her other 5th period class that day so we had to spend the first five minutes of class trying to figure that out. But of course, my “closest friend” found a way to excuse herself so she could watch her crush destroy me in his debate. My partner wasn’t prepared at all. She kept turning to me, asking what she should say right after I asked her if she would go up to the podium. I made the decision then that I wasn’t going to have her make a fool of me. Not today. Not after all this.

So, she sat there, at the side desk, doing absolutely nothing the entire period. She let me go up to the podium and speak on behalf of the negative side the entire hour. As I listened to the affirmative’s rebuttals, I was vigorously flipping through the pages in the folders sitting in front of me hoping to find my dignity somewhere in there.

Apart of me almost admired that she was basically sitting there giving me moral support, but then I remembered she probably just wanted to skip 5th period.

I had nothing.

All of my arguments, destroyed by the other side.

They used the same arguments that I had argued in the first debate and I couldn’t help but applaud their work.

At one point in the debate I mentioned something about the constitution.

My opponent, (the guy my “friend” was cruising on) then mother chucking pulled out a pocket sized version of the whole damn constitution from his back pocket to rebuttal.


Someone was obviously tipped off prepared.

Near the end I chose to not respond to the last argument given, I was at a point of exhaustion and I just wanted it to end as fast as it could.

I gave my closing speech and tried to push every last thought I had to the class.

I went back to my seat and slouched down, trying not to let my teenage hormones get to me.

To no one’s surprise, the vote was unanimously in favor of the Affirmative.

I was a zombie the rest of the day.

I didn’t have anything else to say.

I was exhausted.

Every once in a while, the memory of this day pops into my brain. I cringe every time.

For years, I did my best to erase the memory.

The embarrassment.

The pain.

The defeat.

But like all self-help stories, there’s a reason I couldn’t erase it from my brain.

Because, even here, there’s growth.

There’s a student who jumped out of her comfort zone in a class specialized in public speaking, (her biggest fear).

There’s a student who dared to deviate from her classmates, without the expectation of a grade in return.

There’s a student who showed commitment. Who adapted and overcame obstacles, who did the best she could’ve when shit hit the fan.

In the end, her best wasn’t good enough.

The situation was out of her control.

So, she spent the next four years focusing on what she could control.

Weeks after the debate, she joined a group of boys in her communications class because she recognized their talents and strengths. She saw their potential and knew they were the perfect fit.

They were victorious.

And now, four years later, she’s doing just fine.

She continued to push her limits, fell down a few more times, and eventually rose again.

She occasionally took on the leadership role and lead the teams she was assigned to the best of her ability.

She was wise about who she chose as teammates.

She was intentional about finding people who were really on her team.

Today she strives to be the best leader she can be.

Today she strives to listen, learn, grow, and inform.

Today she strives to better herself every day both physically and mentally.

Today she strives for excellence but appreciates the lessons learned along the way.

Today she strives to become a teacher so she can teach the world’s future leaders.

Today she strives to find an abundance of joy in the unexpected.

She strives to love.

Though she will forever be known for the historical year her class graduated high school, she was okay with it.

Because maybe, even here, right now, in the pain, exhaustion, and defeat, there’s growth.