This isn’t really an introduction, but I’m not sure where else it would best to place this, so I suppose here goes:
Many years ago, when I was 14 or 15, I was an active contributor to YouthDebates. I remember it was after the 2015 election and maybe just before the Brexit referendum.
I enjoyed coming home after a long day at school and taking part in conversations on British politics. It was fun. As an avid Liberal Democrat, it was challenging to defend my political outlook at a time when the party had been decimated. It was a stimulation and the experience of being on these forums grew me as a person, both intellectually and in terms of character. Through the process of annoying many fellow members, and appealing to a few less, I gradually learned the art of rhetoric (okay, you got me, I still haven’t persuaded anyone to be a Liberal Democrat, but at least they’re now listening and not yawning…). By this, I mean that YouthDebates cleared most of the sophistry in me and it inspired me to be eager to learn more, to challenge critically, to reflect on what I believe. It taught me how to debate with valid arguments, not with facts and fallacies; it encouraged me to be open-minded to new ideas. And it fundamentally deepened what I knew: I quickly dropped the mantle of political partisanship and started to dedicate my time to learning the tenets of political philosophy and economics in order to understand the faults in my reasoning and the gaps in my understanding. It was dedicating my time to these that ultimately led me to leave these forums.
The community here was amazing - many familiar faces and names come to mind, all of whom were always supportive and friendly. It felt like a second life and I would gladly and easily reckon them amongst my close friends. I met so many engaging, interesting and bright people, with whom I dearly wish I had stayed in contact. I would be overjoyed - but I doubt it - if any of them are still here now, reading this.
Since my time on YouthDebates, I’ve not stopped debating anything that comes up in the political landscape, but I’ve done more so face-to-face. YouthDebates set me and inspired me on a journey and a process of learning and character-building. In spite of dedicating hours a day to YouthDebates during the final year (life tip: that’s a great way to procrastinate doing work), I achieved good GCSE results and now have an offer from the University of Oxford on a course that is renowned for requiring a high degree of critical thinking and openness to new ideas. Let my conditional offer on that course be a testament to how much YouthDebates changed, inspired and made me for the better.
So, this is a thank you - to all the site staff, to all the forum members back in my days, and to everyone who still contributes to these forums. Your work here at inspiring and engaging young people is invaluable and I am incredibly grateful. I hope and pray that you will continue to be a gathering place for so many young people who, like me, love to discuss politics, but may not necessarily find the time and place to do so in their ordinary lives. Thank you all.