Among the successful former debaters I got to catch up with between rounds was Christine Knieff. A 2002 graduate of Brookings HS and national qualifier in Student Congress, Knieff went on to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. She now is in charge of maintaining the "largest C-130 fleet in the world" at Little Rock AFB. When she gets done with leave after Christmas, she'll process out of Little Rock for her next two-year assignment: managing F-16 maintenance in South Korea (I didn't catch whether at Kunsan or Osan). Both she and the Air Force figure she's well suited for that post: her mom is Korean, and Christine is fluent in the language.
So how does a girl from Brookings, South Dakota, end up in charge of maintaining transport planes and fighter jets? High school debate helped. When she graduated and started doing briefings, she found she had an advantage over other officers. She knew just as much as they did, but she could more easily walk into a room full of her superiors, break down data, summarize main issues, and answer questions better than her peers.
Now Knieff isn't anti-sports: she ran track in high school, does martial arts, even does some work on the side as a personal trainer for folks she knows. You can't be in the military and not be physically fit. But Knieff says her ability to run has never been as useful in her daily work as an officer as her ability to communicate.
Knieff has more plans to put the skills she learned as a Bobcat debater to work for her country. After she finishes her master's degree (yes, she's getting a graduate degree while working full time protecting her country: security policy in international relations, online program, St. Mary's University, San Antonio), Knieff aspires to enter the diplomatic corps, rise serve as an ambassador and ultimately Secretary of State.
She says that with a straight face. Powell, Rice, Clinton... Knieff.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: kids, you want to have a shot at ruling the world? Join debate. Get the communication skills you will use in any good job, whether you work in a school, an insurance company, the Air Force, or the State Department.
Notes on other remarkable debate alums at Bell:
- Another Bobcat debate alum, Scott Meyer, was in the judging corps yesterday. Scott was among the mighty Brookings debate crew who stormed the Portland Nationals in 2001. He graduated from Luther College in 2005, taught English in Tanzania, got a master's in peace and conflict studies in Oslo (yes, Norway), and now is applying to places like Notre Dame to continue his work.
- Travis Kiefer, a proud 2006 grad of the Groton debate program, joined me on the judge panel for the U.S. Extemp Final. Before the round, we talked about his urban studies program at Stanford. You know, Stanford, where future Energy Secretary Steven Chu and 26 other Nobel laureates have professed. Very cool.