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Debate Dominates as Top U.S. Team
Thomas Song '19 Associate Editor
November 15, 2017

On October 25th, Lilia Brooker ’19, Steven Li ’19, and Anna Mishchenko ’19 traveled to Balmoral Hall and Gray Academy in Winnipeg, Canada to represent Deerfield Academy at the International Independent Schools’ Public Speaking Competition. The speakers won several awards, scoring as the best American school as a team. In addition, Brooker won the Top U.S. Speaker and Top Persuasive Speaker awards, qualifying her for the World Individual Debating and Public Speaking Championships, which will take place this coming April in Cape Town, South Africa.

Philosophy Teacher and Debate Coach Michael O’Donnell accompanied the speakers to the tournament in Canada. “The experience was fun but intense,” Mr. O’Donnell said. “The students were great, very respectful, and represented Deerfield well. There were very strong teams from other schools too, so I was very pleased with this year’s results.”

Credit: Deerfield Academy

Mishchenko commented on the pressure of representing Deerfield in a high-stakes environment: “It was very daunting to be surrounded by people from all around the world who came to Canada just for public speaking.”

In addition, Mr. O’Donnell mentioned that preparation for the tournament begins in May with tryouts that are open to the whole school, and once the team is chosen, they practice right up until the competition. Clarifying, Mr. O’Donnell stated, “I helped the students brainstorm for persuasive speech topics, gave feedback on prepared speech drafts, and instructed them to read news through Canadian sources, since there sometimes is a Canadian bias … One thing we’ve learned is that serious preparation pays off.”

Additionally, the speakers highlighted several lessons that defined the experience. For example, Li further reflected, “The tournament taught me a lot about thinking before I talk. Even though it may not appear that the best speakers do not have to think before speaking, they do — they just think really fast.”

Mishchenko referenced speaking styles in particular specifying, “I learned several new lessons …  such as the strategy of starting an impromptu with an anecdote and three examples.”

Li agreed and elaborated, “Walking into a room where you have six or seven competitors who can all speak eloquently absolutely made me more humble.”

Looking to the future, Mishchenko expressed her intentions to continue debate throughout the year, stating, “I’m doing a debate cocurricular exemption during winter term. I will be doing a lot of research and debate … while learning how to teach other kids on the debate team and inspire them.”

Meanwhile, Brooker is currently researching to find a topic for a persuasive speech, focusing her efforts on preparing for the upcoming World Individual and Public Speaking Championships in South Africa.

Mr. O’Donnell expressed optimism for the future endeavors of students interested or involved in debate at Deerfield,  saying, “This year, all juniors went to Canada, which means they can either go again, or help students next year. We now have a valuable resources where there are three public speakers on campus who know how the competition works.”

In spite of the high level of commitment that was necessary, the team as a whole agreed participating in the competition was worthwhile and impactful. Brooker elaborated, “The talent around us was incredible. To meet kids from all over the world who have the same passion as you was inspiring.”