Five years ago, when a Grade 8 learner walked into Mrs Basson’s classroom to start participating in debating, nobody could have guessed where her talent would take her. Jessica Chuang, a matric learner and star debater at St Michael’s, will even feature on national television soon.
Every year, Charlene Stanley, the producer ‘Behind the Rainbow’, goes in search of inspiring stories of learners from across South Africa to feature on her show, and Jessica caught her eye.
The episode that features Jessica will be aired in October – watch this space! Being the centre of attention was ‘awkward’ at first but later she became accustomed to it. ‘Cameras make you feel very self-conscious,’ she says. There were many retakes – a new experience for her.
Debating is an important part of Jessica’s life and it has contributed extensively to her character development. She has gained the ability to analyse topics, think rationally, and understand world matters and people better. Her perspective on life and the world has broadened. Debating facilitated constant growth in character and knowledge. She is now able to understand and analyse herself better than ever before.
It made her very proud to be selected for the South African team in 2018. To see her name on the trial list for the national team was already a highlight. She didn’t expect to make it to the team with so many great speakers competing but when she finally heard her name, she realised that she had it in her.
No one is immune to the pressures that come with any level of success, not even Jessica. In the society that we live in today, the pressure to be successful is exponentially greater than ever before and the pressure to continue that success can be a heavy burden. The very competitive nature of the debating sphere doesn’t help with this.
Jessica has been able to handle the wave by being humble. She always tries to remember that being selected for the SA team when there was an array of great speakers from all over the country to choose from, put her in a spot that many people only dream of. Her fellow speakers were also a great help on her journey. She was surrounded by people who constantly strive to improve.
The biggest debating challenge that Jessica faces, is to keep up with relevant and current news, something she struggles to find time to do. In debating, being able to speak well isn’t what gets you the wins. Eloquence must be coupled with quality information. This is not a mountain that many can climb.
A memory that often makes her heart feel warm and fuzzy is competing at All Girls 2019 in Paarl. The SMS team members were Jessica, Emily Chikobvu, and Rethabile Lebakeng. The SMS debating team had misinterpreted the motion and ended up prepping for the wrong side. A complete disaster, right? But nothing was too challenging for the SMS debating team. Upon listening to their opponent’s speech and realising their mistake, they all prepped and wrote their speeches at the podium; talk about thinking on your feet! The result of that debate was a win for SMS. The thrill for Jessica was the excitement of it all, to feel the adrenaline pumping through her veins.
There is nothing in particular that sparks this firecracker; it’s simply the ‘feel’ of the debate. ‘In debating you only get really good debates or not so good debates and nothing in between,’ she says. The feeling that she is firing on all cylinders and giving a good account of herself during a debate is what motivates her.
Jessica is grateful to the people who contributed to shaping her debating career. Amongst them are her school coach, Trey Tekateka, and provincial coaches, Khotso Khokho and Mohau Nthebe.
Jessica has a definite desire to remain part of the debating community after school – preferably as a coach or mentor but possibly even as a debater. If she isn’t debating, you will find her baking, reading, or playing the piano.