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  • I've had the honor of being the adviser for the Passaic County (NJ) Community College debate team for the past three years.

    As I tell the tale, the first year was essentially bake sales, empanada sales, flower sales, everything being sold but debate. The most challenging part that year was to challenge their notion of debate. Last year was the first true year of competition and we did quite well. But some viewed debate as challenging everything around them. (Even how to pronounce "posthumous".) This semester has been phenomenal.

    Before every debate, and throughout the year, I'm quick to remind this team that they're defying expectations of others. They're a group of students who represent the many faces of the Paterson, New Jersey. It's important for these students to realize that when the world thinks of Paterson, it thinks about Lou Costello (or the park that my boss references whenever she hears about my trips to "The Silk City"). Ask a Garden Stater about the town and they simply ask, "Why?"

    A half-century past it's salad days, Paterson has come to symbolize everything wrong with New Jersey's industrial past.

    Over the past three years, we had single parents, students fresh out of high school, those returning to school after twenty years, those who were incarcerated, Ivy Leaguers taking extra courses while considering their next move, those recently learning English, and others. The buzzword among college professionals is "non-traditional student". To the debate team, they are simply individuals looking to explore all that higher education has to offer.

    Labels. Schmabels.

    And yet these students aren't aware of the moniker attached by those who view "traditional" as the college student from 1975. As the student of 2012, they leave the responsibilities of their jobs, family, and other other obligations to challenge each other and expectations that "others" have placed on them, to spend hours each work improving their argumentation skills.

    And they've been successful coming home with countless trophies and even more smiles.

    The sad part is, that for a two-year school, they're gone just as they're become strong debaters.

    These students are now becoming everything that symbolizes Paterson's future.

    In essence, they are Paterson. They are debate.
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