This article was written for the inaugural issue of the National Urban Debate Newsletter.

Stories Worth Telling: Reflections on the Seattle UDL

By: Sean Harris

Sean Harris is the Executive Director of the Seattle Debate Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization pursuing educational reform through debate instruction. The SDF is a partner in the Seattle Urban Debate League. Sean can be reached by email at [email protected]

The Seattle Urban Debate League has had a very successful 2002! Certainly, by conventional yardsticks (dollars raised, programs started, students served), we’re doing quite well. More importantly, however, I feel this has been a successful year because of the many occasions I’ve been able to tell our students, teachers, mentors, parents, volunteers, and supporters about the history of the Seattle Debate Foundation (SDF).

The story of the Seattle Debate Foundation is really the story of the strength and determination of my mentor and friend, Becky Galentine. Becky was an outstanding high school and college debater, and in 1995, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Becky was a fearless warrior, and breast cancer had never seen a tougher fight.

In addition to her “day jobs” of working for Weyerhaeuser, volunteering as a full-time debate coach for Whitman College, and fighting cancer, she created the SDF. Becky wanted to sustain debate in Seattle as a way to give back to the community that had given her so much strength.

Becky lost her four-year battle with breast cancer in 1999, at the age of 29. The debate community lost an ardent advocate, and I lost one of my closest friends. But the Seattle Debate Foundation carries on as her legacy and her lasting contribution to the city of Seattle and the debate community.

This has been a difficult year for me, because I’ve missed Becky much more as the Seattle UDL has transitioned from a theoretical concept to a living, breathing, thriving organization. I was able to tell Becky’s story at our annual awards banquet as we announced the creation of the Becky Galentine Award for outstanding contribution to the SDF. I told the students at our summer camp about Becky. I wish that she could be here to share in our successes, but I know that her presence is felt in everything we do.

To me, the true power of debate lies not in the arguments or the strategies, but in the community that is created by people who share a common love. I’m glad that our UDL students, teachers, and volunteers know that they participate in something that extends beyond their school and beyond their city. Becky’s story binds the Seattle UDL together and keeps us focused on the larger goal of making Seattle a hub of debate activity. Becky wouldn’t have it any other way.

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