When Alyssa Wang ’21 and Mairead Levitt ’21 took over the Debate Club their freshman year, they had no coach and limited leadership. Now, through their efforts, vision, and coaching, the team is 34 members strong and is basking in the glow of recent victories, including pairs finishing on the podium at both local and regional competitions.
Mairead says that when she and Alyssa took over as club leaders, “We were able to implement some real changes. It’s super cool to see how the club has evolved and improved.”
Some of these changes include creating sub-teams for training and for competition and building student interest in the club by pitching it as an opportunity for members to get better at speaking up and voicing their opinions. Alyssa is now club president and captain of the competition team—which involves coaching students before events—and Mairead is co-president and captain of the training team.
Sub-teams now meet twice a week to practice forming and supporting arguments and evaluating differing viewpoints, and members compete monthly in intra-club public forum debates. Topics for debate range from important global events, such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the nuclear “No First Use” policy, to smaller-scale issues, like whether or not Valentine's Day is overrated.
Member Jessica Lian ’23 says, “Debate has improved my public speaking tremendously and has taught me how to formulate an argument on the spot. Writing cases in debate has taught me how to write a good-quality argument with evidence and logic while still being concise.”
The club’s competition team goes beyond intra-club face-offs and recently began participating in local and regional matches against other schools throughout the year. The hard work that Alyssa, Mairead, and teammates have put in is starting to pay off at the podium. At the Washington Area Catholic Forensic League’s Public Forum Competition in December, Alyssa and Leni Glassman ’24 took a first-place finish in the JV division, while Mari Clark ’23 and Madeline Feldner ’23 earned third-place overall in Novice.
Just last month, Mairead, Leni, and Mari and five other competition team members followed up on these victories with more impressive showings at the 46th University of Pennsylvania Liberty Bell Classic (held virtually). Out of 51 Novice Public Forum (beginner) entries, Jessica Lian and Lily Wyatt ’23 advanced to the octofinals, while Mairead and Leni advanced to the quarterfinals. Mairead placed third and Leni placed ninth out of 102 speakers in Novice. In JV, Lily placed ninth and Jessica placed 13th out of 70 speakers overall.
It was an exciting day all around. Mairead got the thrilling news before the tournament that she was accepted into her early decision college, and she and partner Leni went through the tournament undefeated. Mairead says, “Only one of us was going to have a 6-0 record, and we ended up winning what may have been the best debate of my life.”
Topping this off, one the debate’s judges was Holton alum and Debate Club founder Annika Nordquist ’17. Annika visited the team members virtually, and it was a momentous occasion for them to be able to show off their skills and growth for her.
Alyssa is very proud of the effort and work that her team members have displayed. She says, “When I was spectating the debates and taking notes, I would hear my teammate make an incredibly valid argument, which would make me smile proudly and nod in awe! [I thought,] ‘Wow, she's thinking so fast...I haven't even thought about that!’”
Many of the girls who’ve joined Debate Club have used it as an opportunity to hone their debate skills and gain their confidence, but they have also found a place where they’ve felt welcome to explore different ideas and express themselves. Emerson McCarthy ’24 says, “My favorite things about being a part of the team are the friendships and camaraderie. Debate has become a vessel of happiness and comfort: a place where I belong, and where I can be myself. When I debate, I feel strong and confident—something that this club has created for me.”
When asked about the responsibility of being the team coach, Alyssa says, “It is my mission to make the team not only the most prepared and solid with every argument possible but also to be known as the respectful team. I teach them strategies about what to do when someone is constantly talking over you or if someone starts laughing at you while debating. The most important takeaway from debate is that...there is more than one perspective on most issues.” Alyssa not only coaches team members to success; she’s also a mentor and a friend. She often finds the best part of being on the team is the moments where they get to bond with one another.
The Debate Club plans to keep up its current momentum, setting up some friendly matches against other schools in the area, and, of course, aiming to win their upcoming monthly regional and national debate tournaments.