ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST . . . OR NOT

I donít think Mr. B actually intended to say that I wasnít the smartest kid on the high school debate team.He was just trying to make a point Ė what it was completely eluded me, but since I wasnít all that bright, what do you expect?

It had something to do with effort, now that I think about it.He was grading a test we had taken and noticed that the person in the class with the highest IQ received the exact same score as the person in the class with the lowest IQ.He was using that simple irony to make the point that the ultimate achievement of both students had less to do with intellect than exertion.

It was a good point but it was lost on us, mostly because we couldnít get past the IQ thing.During the course of our school years we had undergone a battery of IQ tests, the results of which had been steadfastly kept from us. It was felt that if we actually knew our respective IQ scores we would perform accordingly.Those with high IQs would confidently achieve noteworthy success in the classroom, while those with lower IQs would . . . you know . . . not.

But we didnít care about that.All we knew is that Mr. B had unsuspectingly presented us with a rare opportunity.If we got together and shared our scores we could probably figure out which of us had the highest IQ in the senior debate class, which in turn would tell us who had the highest IQ in the school (since we more or less assumed that we were the schoolís best and brightest Ė and who was going to argue with a bunch of debaters?).

So we huddled around a lunch table and made a chart.All of the scores were different Ė except two.Kay got a B+ with her 89 score Ė the exact same as me.All eyes around the table were focused on the two of us.A sudden awkwardness hung heavily in the air along with the mixed fragrances of cafeteria pizza, Clearasil and Hai Karate.

I donít remember anyone saying anything at that point.Nobody had to.We all knew.In addition to being gorgeous, with her long brown hair and beautiful big eyes, Kay was one of the smartest kids in the class.And I was... well, I was a good guy.I got along with everybody (OK, ALMOST everybody Ė but could I help it if I had to break up with Janet?I mean, Shelley was on the drill team, for Peteís sake.What was a hormonal teenage boy supposed to do?).

But as a debater I was a good orator.Orators give long, prepared speeches.Orators tell stories.They donít have to mix it up in the intellectual give and take of Lincoln-Douglas debate, which requires practice, preparation and . . . you know . . . thinking and stuff.

At first I was embarrassed by the revelation in front my peers.In my mind I had finally been exposed.For years I had struggled to keep pace with my debate partners.I worked hard at gathering information, and I was pretty good at being the first speaker Ė the one who gives a planned speech.But as the debate wore on I would get lost in the rhetoric.Debate judges want to hear logic, reason and incisive rationale.I wanted to tell stories, and stories donít carry much weight when youíre arguing whether or not the judicial system should be significantly changed.

But by the end of school that day it was clear that nobody on the debate team was stunned by the revelation.They already knew that I wasnít the most active verb in the debate team lexicon, and they accepted me just the same.I began to feel relieved.I didnít have to pretend anymore.Mr. B and I decided that the judicial system would be just fine without my input, and I shifted my focus from debate to oratory Ė where, it turns out, judges like stories.

I understand that Kay went on to a successful career as an attorney.I havenít spoken to her in years, but Iím sure sheís still right there among the best and the brightest.

And Iím still telling stories.

Regardless of what Mr. B intended.

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ó © Joseph Walker

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