Olivia Cotton

Cotton talks about her journey in debate.


Photo by Hattie Ludwig

Jordan Honeycutt

Debate team leader, junior Olivia Cotton, has high hopes for this year. Her passion for debate stirred after the 2016 election.

“The 2016 election cycle was the first election that I actually cared about because I understood what was going on,” Cotton said. “The polarizing climate that was created forced me to become more educated and aware, which then allowed me to develop my own political identity and stand for issues I was passionate about.”

Cotton is in the top 10 in the state of Missouri for Extemporaneous Speaking, top 25 for Lincoln-Douglas Debate and top 20 for Extemporaneous Debate.

As a debater, Cotton has pride in her achievements. One of her proudest moments in debate is being one of the two sophomores to make it to nationals. Junior Regan Mills, who had made it to nationals as well, has praise for Cotton as a debater and also as a friend.

“She takes her work very seriously but she doesn’t take herself seriously at all,” Mills said. “She’s so fun-loving and she works really hard. She is the most caring and hilarious person, she makes sure the world is a brighter place and that is just really special.”

Cotton has set some high goals.

“I would like to prove to myself that I can do more than what I have done,” Cotton said. “Being able to go to nationals was pretty cool. Going to nationals is what a lot of people seek to do. I want to not only work to get to nationals again in my junior and senior years, but I want to improve each time to show myself that I can do it. I don’t want my sophomore year to be my defining year in this program.”

Debate teacher Tim Baldwin is happy with Cotton’s accomplishments.

“She’s one of the leaders on the team,” Baldwin said. “I see her seeing it as a place where she can mentor and really improve herself and her teammates. She’s a really diligent and hard worker. I think debate provides an opportunity for somebody with the type of drive like she has to just pour herself into that.” Mills agreed.

“She is extremely hardworking, intelligent and it’s all about her work ethic with debate,” Mills said. “She’s very dedicated.”

Cotton’s key to success is a lesson learned from Baldwin.

“Because of what Mr. Baldwin taught me, I know life isn’t going to get any easier from right now, so you just have to push through it,” Cotton said. “In the end, you’ll learn from the hardships you’re going through in order to improve for the future. Focusing on what’s ahead, rather than dwelling in the past, is very important to me. Your past won’t define you if you don’t let it. No expectations is the key to success.”