Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Preparing for Nationals

The countdown is dwindling down to nationals! I could not be more excited. The checklists have begun, the eating habits are being cracked down on, and the nerves are setting in. I have been focusing a lot on preparing for the national pageant, but am still managing to enjoy myself and doing things around North Dakota with my state title. Although I am doing a lot to prepare, I want to go into it with an open heart and an open mind. I don’t want to be a robot answering questions or looking like I’ve over rehearsed. I will, and have prepared, and will practice the things I need to be able to perform my best, but want be the most natural me that I can be. This is an experience of a lifetime and I want to be able to enjoy every moment of it without over stressing the little things. And I plan on doing just that : )

Yours truly,

Madison Johnson

Miss Teen North Dakota International 2014 

My Debate Story

When I was a little girl, I loved to talk. I talked to anyone that would listen and even when they wouldn’t. I talked so much, that people started to tell me that I needed to learn to speak less. And so I did, to the point where by the time I was around 6 years old, I hardly wanted to talk anymore. I became shy, withdrawn, and lost my voice in the world. I didn’t have my fearless attitude anymore and I was afraid of what people might say if I were to speak up. So instead I kept everything inside and avoided conversations.

In school, there are multiple assignments that involve public speaking. Like most everyone else in my class, I was nervous but I got through them all. But it wasn’t until high school where I encountered an opportunity that would change my life. I was given a unique assignment to debate a classmate. I was terrified. There were tears. I was afraid to the point where I had almost dropped the class. I agonized over it every day knowing that it was getting closer. Debating was going to be different then giving a rehearsed speech. I was going to have to be ready for anything and debate a peer in front of my peers. I didn’t want to hurt someone else’s feelings or have my own feelings hurt.

I finally turned to my dad for help. My dad is an accomplished attorney and the most fearless public speaker I know. You won’t ever catch him dwelling over what other people might think about him, and he is always confident he knows what he needs to say. At this time, my dad and I were not the best at communicating with each other. His bold and loud personality didn’t fit well with a quiet and easily emotional high school girl. We were complete opposites and I had no idea how asking for his advice was going to go, but he immediately took a huge interest in the project. He laid out the case and helped me brainstorm new approaches. He would drill me over and over on cross-examination questions even during dinner and between commercials on TV. There was a moment where I realized he wasn’t invested in the topic and he was actually investing time in me. We were able to bond over something as two completely different kinds of people, but we could still debate an argument with manners, integrity, and dignity. And every time I told him I was afraid, in his own way he would tell me that he believed in me. I think he knew that I could talk, but I just refused to do it for so long. So after a lot of emotional moments and trying to cry my way out of it, eventually I had to debate.

The debate assignment went so well, that after it was finally over a few of my classmates approached me. They wanted me to join the debate team. I didn’t even know my school even had a debate team. I also didn’t think I could go through that kind of preparation ever again. I thought about it for a long time and eventually decided to try one tournament. My partner and I won that first tournament. I realized that debating wasn’t about being loud, mean, or rude. In fact, I started making a ton of friends. We would talk to other teams between rounds and practice debating imaginary humorous topics on the bus. For the first time, I was encouraged to talk. My unique speaking style was being used as strategy. My coached worked with my strengths that I had and helped me develop my own unique character that I would become during a debate round. Not only was I finally able to speak again, but I felt compelled to speak. Now instead of rambling like I did when I was young, I could speak with purpose, structure, and persuasion. I knew how to use words and moments to my advantage to get my point across. And when the season was over, my partner and I were varsity semi-finalists (3rd place!) at state.

My experience as a debater laid a foundation for me for college. Not only were my papers stronger in vocabulary, grammar, and structure, but I had great relationship skills that allowed me to listen, cooperate, and resolve conflicts. I had problem solving skills and leadership abilities. I found myself constantly finding ways where my debate skills crossed over into my life and how I would cope with adversity.

I was lucky that I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to be on a debate team at all. In North Dakota, there are over 160 schools and only around 20 of them offer debate programs. My team was small, only around 10 of us competed in a school of over 1000 students. I don’t know if I ever would have found my voice at all if it wasn’t for the series of events that lead to the slight chance of having this rare opportunity.

This is why I support debate programs. As a debate judge, I watch the students competing go through transformations similar to mine. I am inspired by their progress and I am motivated by their passion to be better. I have seen students start out as B/C average students and turn out to be national competitors. I have seen students with learning disabilities overcome their biggest fears. I have watched students go from the bottom one tournament to winning the next. But I am sad when I think of all of the students that miss out on this opportunity altogether simply because their school doesn’t offer a program. That easily could have been me, and if it had been, I don’t know if I would have ever made onto the amazing journey that I am on now. I am very thankful that this was how I found my voice in the world, but there is work to be done. I work hard to be sure that no one will feel afraid to raise their hand in class, or feel like they can’t share their ideas with a group. I promote debate programs so that people don’t feel trapped or secluded and have a place to safely communicate. I want to work hard to be sure that no one feels like their opinions are not valuable, or like they are not worthy of speaking, or that they are not capable of communicating their thoughts. It might be a small place to start, but I know it will work!

“The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives.” Tony Robbins

Meg Pulkrabek RD, LRD
Miss North Dakota International 2014

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

National Speech and Debate Association Nationals are Here!

While most students have been celebrating the beginning of their summer vacation, the North Dakota debate national qualifiers have been hard at work finalizing their research for the national debate tournament held this week in Overland, Kansas. Their topics were announced May 1st, and after all of their preparation for the last 45 days, they will finally be able to battle it out! (and maybe enjoy the summer weather once its all over!)

One of the topics that the Lincoln Douglas debaters will facing is “The United States ought to prioritize the pursuit of national security objectives above the digital privacy of its citizens.” Yes, high school students across the country have been diligently reflecting on their right to privacy. How huge is that?! We have all heard stories about hackers, surveillance, and wire-tapping. Take a moment to think about what your digital privacy means to you. Now think what you might be able to come up with if you had been focusing on it for the last month in a half! It’s so exciting that our next generation of students have already been thinking about how they feel about these types of situations and also how they can take personal responsibility when it comes to their privacy.

This is what debate topics are meant to do. They are meant to spark deeper conversations about those things that don’t have an easy answer and we are a little grey and fuzzy on. As a judge, it’s always fun to sit in the break room between rounds and listen to other judges and coaches discuss their opinions on the monthly topics and share new ideas or stories that others haven’t considered yet.

Debate sparks conversation. Conversations spark ideas. And ideas can change the world!

Follow the results at and cheer on team ND! 

Saturday, June 14, 2014


My throat hurt, my stomach felt queasy, I was sweating.  No, I wasn’t getting sick.  I was watching the announcement of the final six at the Miss USA pageant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  I had cheered my voice raw for my very own hometown contestant, Miss North Dakota USA, Audra Mari, was 1st Runner Up! My stomach was in nervous knots for those beautiful ladies, and lastly, the temperature in Baton Rouge is roughly equivalent to the temperature of the sun. 

A few weeks earlier, my husband had surprised me with a trip to watch the Miss USA Pageant.  We don’t get away very often and he had arranged everything: tickets, hotel, car rental, flight.  I was just supposed to come along and enjoy myself. I am very good at the job he left for me to do. 

Saturday afternoon, we were able to do a private Meet and Greet with Erin Brady, Miss USA 2013-2014.  She is a delightful woman.  Her personality sparkles and she has a beautiful way of making everyone around her feel special.  We were able to watch Erin take her title a year earlier at the Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas.  So meeting her in person on this hot afternoon felt like we going full circle. 

After meeting Erin and getting autograph’s for my girls.  We were given a guided tour of the back stage and behind the scenes workings of the pageant.  What a huge affair.  All of the staff we were introduced to were amazing.  We even got to have the new HD screens explained to us by the set designer.  Getting to experience what goes on behind the curtain made watching the pageant even more interesting.

Sunday night, everyone had to be in their seats by 6:30.  Miss USA is aired live and we were going to be the audience.  We were given very specific instructions about when to stand and sit and how to cheer.  As an audience we were given a “handler” to make sure we performed our part of the pageant production correctly.  The show was about to begin.

The contestants took the stage with a special Louisiana flair.  Each girl announced herself to the crowd with a Marti Gras mask.  From the very beginning to the last moment on stage each woman shown with her own unique personality.  It is such a learning experience to be in the audience of a pageant.  So much of who each contestant truly is shows through.

I am so lucky that with only a little more than a month to go until my own turn at Nationals, I got to watch another set of beauty’s grace the national stage.  The thing that struck me the most is that the level these women were competing at, is the level I am at.  WOW!  I have been given such a great blessing and privilege this year.  I am ready to strut my own stuff on stage.

Oh my, I think my stomach is beginning to hurt again and I am feeling a bit sweaty…

There you have it, that’s a bit about my vacation.  I am ready to go again next year.  Let’s go together. It’ll be a grand adventure!

Janelle Steinberg, Mrs. North Dakota International 2014

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


I was given as a graduation gift to go to Cancun, Mexico with my best friends and their family. With the stress of graduating, figuring out my future, and preparing for nationals, it was very nice to relax on the beach for a week with some of the people who mean the most to me.  The resort we stayed at was absolutely beautiful. We were able to parasail, sing karaoke, snorkel, and do a lot of relaxing. God blesses me with many amazing opportunities in this incredible life of mine and this is just one of them.

Yours truly,

Madison Johnson
Miss Teen North Dakota International 2014

Saturday, June 7, 2014

High School Graduate!!!

I can’t believe I can say that I am officially a high school graduate. I feel as though the past four years of my life have come and gone in the blink of an eye. High school brought many ups and downs and through it all I was able to spend it with people I will never forget in a place I will always remember. No matter where life takes me, whether it is thousands of miles away or with all new people, the place where I was born and raised will always be where some of my greatest memories are cherished. I will always call this place my home. Thank you to all of those who have been stood by my side that helped lead me up to the next chapter in this book we call life.

 Yours truly,
 Madison Johnson

Miss Teen North Dakota International 2014