Walker sees Grady debate as a stepping stone to success

The Southerner

It takes a village. Coined by the Igbo tribe and adopted by Hillary Clinton, this phrase is Grady alum Taylor Walker’s mantra for a successful life.

“Grady is that sort of an environment that becomes a village,” Walker said. “A lot of my success has to do with the village around me. I couldn’t have done it on my own.”

Taylor Walker is a 2011 Grady graduate who soared at Grady in debate, theater, and academics. While Taylor took advantage of all that the Grady community could offer, her main passion was debate.

Grady debate coach Mario Herrera described Walker as an “ambassador for debate for the nation” competing at various tournaments around the nation throughout her time at Grady.

Intensely committed to the extracurricular activities, Walker received the honor of 2011 National Student of the Year from the National Forensic League.  Walker competed in dramatic interpretation debate for all four years at Grady. Walker placed first in state competitions multiple times as well going to nationals every year.

“I worked around 40 hours a week,” Taylor said. “ I was able to travel a lot and learned a lot. It impacted my life in a big way. “

Even now, half a decade after finishing senior year at Grady, Taylor realizes how Grady debate affected her life as it is now.

“Through debate, I was able to tell a lot of stories which I’m ultimately doing right now but in a different way,” Taylor said. “ Debate helped me to get more confident and learning more about how to tell stories.”

Taylor was also greatly affected by a piece she did for debate in which she got to interview a Hurricane Katrina victim.

“I will never forget being in a hotel room and having one of the most  emotional conversations I’d had in high school,” Walker said.  I had performed stories before but this was something that really happened.”

This powerful storytelling led Taylor to the career that she has now, working at ABC as a news producer.

Liliana Chanler, Grady junior and debate participant, agrees with Walker and relates to the experiences debate can lead you too.

“Going to competitions around Georgia and the U.S. have shown me just how amazing the activity can be,” Chanler said. “Personally,  I have grown to be a better speaker, more well rounded in the domestic and world knowledge, and I have become more confident in general.”

Grady debate coach Mario Herrera credits the success stemming from the debate program to the creativity that it fosters in students.

            “When someone embraces their creativity, they can do whatever they want, Herrera said. “ Expressing your ideas gives an individual the ability to move forward.”

            Herrera also stresses the diversity of Grady debate and how it strengthens the team.

            “Debate is for all types of people,” Herrera said. “ The team is better when we’re diverse. The team is strong because we don’t agree.”

Taylor Walker adapted to recognizing differences at Grady, as she transferred in through the magnet program and had previously been exposed to a different type of learning environment.

            “Before coming to Grady, I went to predominantly black schools,” Walker said.       “Grady offered me something that I didn’t have before in regards to just giving me the opportunity to see something different. I was surrounded by people that were at a different academic mindframe, constantly challenging you.”

Along with a competitive academic environment, Grady presented an opportunity for Walker to grow a support system from her friends and, most importantly, her teachers.

Mr. Herrera and Ms. Willoughby went above and beyond what teachers are and what you think of teachers, “ Walker said. “Mr. Herrera especially  has always been there for me. I’m out of highschool, but he still continues to teach me; my family members consider him a family member.”

Herrera remembers Walker as “a bright spirit” who “wanted others to feel the same excitement she felt” for debate.

            “When she would practice, there was always a smile on her face,” Herrera said. “She becomes excited when she taps into her own voice.Taylor taught me that students will come together around positivity. She’s gonna make a difference in the world.”

Despite being passionately committed to debate, Walker shined her bright light on the stage in her senior play as Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray.

“Performing in Hairspray at Grady was one of the best moments of my life,” Walker said. “It was a great experience  to be able to perform night after night a production that had such a good message that was sort of parallel to Grady.”

Eventually receiving the Posse scholarship and going to Boston University, Taylor Walker has had a wildly successful life and thanks Grady for the impact it made on her.

“Grady is that sort of an environment that becomes a village,” Walker said. “Every single person that you encounter has an impact during your life. I am forever grateful for it.

In terms of her debate accomplishments, Taylor said: “I couldn’t have done it on my own. Don’t be afraid of getting involved in an extracurricular that intimidates you.The alluring thing about debate was that I was scared and wanted to try it.”

It takes a village, and Walker’s helped her soar through Grady and into a peaceful, productive, problem-solving career.