Laura Livingston coaches and advises the Bellingham United Debate Club, aka the Hamsterdebaters.
What do you do? I am the coach and forensics adviser for the Bellingham United Debate Club, three Bellingham School District high schools debating as one team. We offer policy, public forum and Lincoln-Douglas debate and interpretive speech events. We travel to tournaments in Western Washington and Oregon, typically, 12–15 tournaments a year.
What was your career path? I coached debate for three years at the high school level and two years at two different universities, but I also wanted to travel and experience foreign cultures. When I joined the Department of State as a foreign service officer, I never realized how much I would miss debate, but the opportunities to live abroad and be involved in exciting foreign policy issues helped compensate. When I retired in 2006, it took me awhile to “come home” to debate in 2012, but, when I did, I knew it was the missing piece of my life.
What’s a typical day like? There is no typical day, which is why I enjoy debate! We practice twice a week and attend tournaments on Fridays/Saturdays almost every weekend. Tournaments are incredibly fun, intense, competitive, challenging academic events lasting six to 10 hours a day, at which I judge and critique debate rounds, coach my students and enjoy camaraderie with my fellow coaches and judges.
What surprises people about what you do? That we even have a debate program! Maybe in urban areas where more high schools have debate, it is on peoples’ radars, but in Whatcom County, the BSD is the only school district with a forensics program, so lots of people, when they read my “Ask me about my Hamsterdebater” bumper stickers, are surprised to find out not only that we have a debate program in Bellingham, but that it is very successful!
What’s the best part of the job? Working with a diverse variety of really smart, hardworking, motivated kids who are America’s future. Encouraging them to be outstanding debaters and helping prepare them for the future is incredibly rewarding. Forensics coaches care about all the kids they coach and judge — not just their own — and I and my kids have learned so much from our competitors.