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The Summer They Bridged the Gap

It's hot as hell in Texas this week. It's hell in Afghanistan this decade. So what's new? Clayton James Goss is what's new.

Our country has been at war since he was 10 years old. He's grown up thinking the middle east was an impossible place to go unless you had camo and a big gun. He's grown up being taught that things there can only be fixed militarily. He's grown up knowing that Afghanistan is a thousand worlds away and ten lifetimes back.

Clayton never joined the army or ventured to fight anyone. He talks. A lot. In fact, he's the International Public Debate Association's national champion. Finding solutions and selling them like cool water on a hot day is what he does best. This summer, he joined a cadre of other debaters from our circuit to make history. They've rejected everything they've grown up with and been taught. They chose to create their own path and find a new way to bring our countries a little closer together. They've joined forces with one of the universities in Kabul to teach their students IPDA debate.

At 4:24am our time, a battle was won. Clayton ran the first IPDA debate round in the history of Afghanistan. As the nation around us rallied behind war as the only solution, five young debaters went to a war-torn country to teach students to accomplish change through argument. Armed with pens, flow pads, and sharp suits, they carved out a little piece of history for themselves and the US. They fought back against stereotypes of college kids, young adults, and Afghanistan. They built a bridge across an expanse that no one else saw.

Today we honor the soldiers who have died throughout history and fought to the end for each other, for their country, and for the American dream. But, today I'm also honoring those five debaters who shoot words like bullets and drop smiles like bombs. They, too, are forging ahead into the unknown.

"Pioneers! O Pioneers!

For we cannot tarry here,
We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger,
We, the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend, Pioneers! O pioneers!"
- Pioneers! O Pioneers! by Walt Whitman

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