by Mary Kate Skehan '12
July 1, 2012
From left: Jenna Long '12 will attend Columbia Law School in the fall; author Mary Kate Skehan '12 will attend the Denver Publishing Institute and plans to pursue a career in the publishing industry; Peter Wright '12, Austin Farneth '12 and Josh Handelsman '12 joined Teach for America.
“Your mock-trial careers at Dickinson are not defined by one round, one tournament or one year. They are defined by what you have accomplished and by what you leave behind.”
The faculty coach of Dickinson’s Mock Trial team, Associate Professor of Political Science Doug Edlin, writes a teamwide e-mail after every tournament. This particular message, addressed to the team’s graduating seniors, almost made me cry when I read it in the library’s Biblio Café. It’s the last of its kind I’ll receive, now that I’ve arrived at the end of my last season. But for once, I have to disagree with Professor Edlin. For me, Dickinson Mock Trial is not defined by what I leave behind. It’s defined by what I take with me.
Every year, the nation’s 650 college mock-trial teams receive a case packet from the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA) providing us all the information we need for trial: witness statements, evidence, case law, stipulations, even the rules of evidence for Midlands—our very own fictional state. Each team puts together a plaintiff or prosecution case and a defense case; each side has three attorneys and three witnesses. Schools compete against each other at invitational tournaments. Every February AMTA hosts regional competitions around the country, and fewer than 200 teams advance to the opening round of national competition.
So, what do Edlin and his fellow coach, Judge Ed Guido ’72, mean when they talk about what we’ve accomplished? They like to point out that the students who joined the team with me in fall 2008 brought Dickinson to the opening round of national championships for the first time and have advanced to nationals every year since. We were part of the first Dickinson team to advance to the final round of national championships in Memphis, Tenn., my sophomore year. Along with my teammate and friend Reco Sanders Jr. ’11, I was the first Dickinson mock trialer to receive All-American honors. In four years we’ve grown from a team to a program. Space on Professor Edlin’s trophy shelf is running low. And now that the last ballots have been cast, and I’ll probably never make another objection or question another witness, I want to reflect on how Dickinson Mock Trial has shaped my growth as a student and as an individual for the last four years.
Earning a spot on the team my first year meant a lot of practice and a lot of travel. It meant 17 tournaments over four years and a lot of time in a white Dickinson minivan. It also meant getting to know some of the most energetic, engaging and talented students—and friends—I’ve ever met. It meant gaining the mentorship of Professor Edlin and Judge Guido. When I think about my mock-trial career, I don’t think about trophies; I think about connections.
Classroom application of the skills I’ve gained is obvious. Giving closing arguments has helped me prepare for in-class presentations. Countless direct examinations have strengthened the organization of my writing. Cross-examinations have lent me confidence when I debate with a classmate, or professor, and being on the other side of a cross-exam as a witness has helped me defend my points when a classmate or professor disagrees with me. Winning objection arguments feels pretty great, but losing them forces me to take a breath and be flexible enough to adapt without losing my cool. (This one is still a big challenge.) Mock trial has made me a more inventive, analytical and confident person.
But 17 tournaments have also meant 17 opportunities to connect with my coaches and teammates outside the classroom—and nothing builds lasting team bonds like road trips and late-night hotel-room practice. Mock-trial tournaments are exhausting affairs, after all. They comprise four three-hour trial simulations over two to three days, coupled with the logistical challenges of car travel, traffic, hotels, takeout and early mornings.
But we’re successful in part because we thrive on the stress of competition—the pre-performance jitters, strategizing during recesses, anxiously awaiting our results in a hallway crowded with teams—whether we admit it or not. It’s helped build my closest relationships at college, and I’ll take them with me wherever I go.