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May 092019

Any debate where you only have 8 minutes of prep is an interesting one. Even more so when you have to argue that teenagers are lazy – to an audience of teenagers! But one where you’re debating against the leader of the National party, as well as the Wairarapa MP, well that’s something else entirely. Especially when you’re only 17 years old.

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Caelum Greaves takes on National Leader Hon Simon Bridges and MP for Wairarapa Alastair Scott. Photo: Catherine Rossiter-Stead

For some people, debating against the leader of the opposition is just part of their job. But not for me. As a student at Kuranui, my daily job is school, study, and writing. Not that I was nervous mind you. I was asked lots if I was nervous, yet I never really felt it. Everyone around me seemed more nervous than I was. However they were nervous for what I might say, how I might display myself. When you’re representing something bigger than you there is always an expectation, and it is weighs a lot. It didn’t really hit me until the night before, where people were telling me how nervous I should be, that I felt any nerves at all. That’s where Simon came into his own.

Both Simon and Alistair were incredibly charismatic, and it was easy to go into the debate feeling at ease. There is a very special feeling when you’re having an exciting, genial, humorous debate. It’s very different from what I imagine Simon must usually debate, and I sincerely hoped he enjoyed it as much as I did. Both me and my team-member, Aimee Clouston, could have learned a lot from such skilled speakers, if we weren’t so busy looking for holes in their arguments.

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Year 13 student Caelum Greaves was proud to represent Kuranui College.
Photo: Catherine Rossiter-Stead

Pride has so many connotations, which makes it awfully difficult to explain how I felt in the moments leading up to, during, and after the debate. Because I was proud. I was so proud, but not because of the debate. The debate was some fun, a chance to relax and show Simon a few more of the amazing skills which our students at Kuranui have. I was proud of Kuranui, of the teachers and the students who surrounded me. Kuranui achieves well above national standards in so many areas, and I was proud that we could show that.

I was proud of myself too of course. I’ve been writing articles about Kuranui for our social media, as well as the local papers for a while now, but seeing something like this happen, knowing I was a part of it, really felt like everything was coming together. All of the hard work put into showing what Kuranui could do had paid off. Our students got the opportunity to show off our skills, ask Simon any burning questions they had, and gain the exciting opportunity to know our politicians a little better.

Everyone makes a big fuss over the fact that they came, they got to see our performances, and that they debated with us. But I’ve learnt many times that what everyone makes a big fuss about isn’t always the most important thing for the people involved. I know that some of our students got the chance to ask cultural or environmental questions which they normally would not have been able to. Some of them are now more into politics then they were before, because they got to ask questions of people who had experienced that environment. I was able to talk to Simon’s Social Media Advisor about how things work in the political sector, as well as someone young about university. As someone who wants to study scientific communication at university, works in that sector, and who is constantly seeking ways to get my fiction published, this provided rare opportunities to gain valuable knowledge and networking. Our students and staff gained something valuable that day, and speaking to Simon afterwards, he told me that it was nostalgic, like his college days. I just hope that he gained something just as valuable out of it as we did.

Whenever you go into a debate, especially one against someone of no small renown, or where the odds are close, there is a strange sort of excitement. The ecstatic titillation of your heart beating faster, the rising of words in your gorge faster than you can utter them, followed by the utter exhilaration of making a point which your opponent never expected. It’s a vice in its own right, and to throw down in a fast paced debate like that against people as skilled as they were…

Let’s just say is certainly an opportunity I am not likely to forget.

Caelum Greaves, Yr 13