One of the worst fears that people have is public speaking. So imagine that you have to go to the front of the room, and not only do you have to share your opinion and viewpoints on a topic, but you also have to challenge someone else and tell them in front of an audience why their viewpoint is weak and why your position is stronger. Not scary at all, right?
But, it’s really not that scary. Not with good training and coaching and an understanding of forming good arguments. In the Speech & Debate program at Cornell University, we believe that everyone should have the fundamental skills of argumentation and debate. We believe that these are skills that lead to a better and more engaged society, no matter your age, background, skill level or experience. We see this mission as a privilege and a responsibility; and we learn the impact of these skills from none other than those with whom we teach and train.
This past year, we had the privilege of working with Janelle Vuong, currently a first-year high school student in Dryden, New York. Janelle was a day camper in Cornell’s 2017 International Summer Debate Camp as a Mayoral Scholarship recipient sponsored by the City of Ithaca Mayor’s Office. We had a chance to speak with Janelle after her experience and why she wants to now start her own debate club in her school. Here are the valuable lessons she learned.
1. It’s fun to learn something new even when it can be initially daunting
Janelle Vuong (JV): “I was excited about attending the International Summer Debate Camp at Cornell because I had seen debates before, but I had never done it myself or known anyone to do it. I was excited to try it out and to see what kind of experience it would be like; but, I was nervous because everyone there was older than me and they seemed to know more about it. I had no knowledge of debate. You have to be really comfortable and ready to go on the spot, talking about this topic. Once I started learning the skills and techniques, and started applying them in debates in front of my cohort, I realized the value of what I was learning and saw how fun it could really be!”
2. You meet great people and expand your understanding of the world
JV: “From the debate camp, the people were the best part. I got to meet so many brilliant and talented people who were super ambitious and really intelligent. Everyone really wanted to be there and to try to do our best. It was great meeting people from different cultures and how they view and think about different topics and situations.
Honestly, growing up in the world, you’re going to meet different people and not everyone is going to agree with you. If you are open-minded, you can think about their perspectives and points of views. We learned a lot about each other through debate. You pull a lot from those around you. If you respect and understand where they are coming from, you are really going to go far in life.”
3. You learn to not take things personally
JV: “One of the first things I learned was not to take things personally. During the final debate tournament, we were going against debaters who may have been older or more experienced than us; but, we learned to take it in stride. Even though we can make a heated and argument one minute, at the end of the debate while we were waiting for the judges’ decision, we would be out in the hallway having fun and joking. We’re not going to take it personally of course, because we know this is part of the learning process.”
4. If you want to be effective, you have to consider and think about others’ perspectives
JV: “It’s important to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. In the case with debate, it’s the opposing side. Debate forces you to look at the other side of things and to consider other perspectives. You have to find reasons for other points of view in order to support and advance your own side.
Before I went to the Cornell summer debate camp, I was a strong-headed person and it was hard for me to empathize with the other side. After the camp and learning how to debate, I think more about the different sides of a debate and what I’m arguing against and what evidence I have. Empathizing, remaining open-minded and learning to respect other people’s opinions and thoughts, these are very valuable traits.”
5. You learn how to have faith and confidence in yourself
JV: “One of the most important things I learned from the summer debate camp was learning to be confident and have faith in myself. During the first round of the final debate tournament, my team debated against a team of older campers, some of them three years older and with prior debate experience. They would tear apart our arguments which was intimidating. During this, even though we were really nervous debating them, we stayed calm – we realized we were still learning and that everything in the end was going to be alright. To our surprise, we ended up winning the debate. We were shocked and we were really relieved. We actually got through that. I guess we didn’t do as bad as they (the opposing team) made us believe.
This experience along with the teachings from the camp, taught me that no matter what your opponent may say, you still have to have faith in yourself. You still have to have confidence in yourself and keep debating. Because I learned how to speak with more confidence, I trusted myself more fully in making good arguments and providing evidence to support my position.”
6. It becomes something you can continue to improve on and share with others
JV: “From the summer debate camp, I took away many lessons with one being that this is something that I want to continue to practice and to share this with others. I wish I could provide others the opportunity to start learning debate as soon as they can, especially in high school when you are trying out different opportunities.
This is why I want to create a debate club in my school. Sometimes people can be a little bit too sheltered from the outside world and they might not meet enough people with different views. They may grow up in a place where people believe in the same thing or have the same beliefs. They may not learn how to be as open-minded and accept other viewpoints. They may not take the time to think of the reasoning behind other people’s arguments or maybe why they believe in some things. I want people to try out debate themselves even though they may not know what it is. Especially because you come away with such valuable knowledge and having confidence in yourself.”
7. It is an important and valuable lifelong skill
JV: “Debate is a very valuable skill that everyone should have. I believe that it will take you far in the world. Learning debate required that I learn how to speak more fluently, to put together arguments and to find evidence and reasons to support my arguments. I definitely became a more confident speaker and I learned how to think on my feet more. I was able to come up with thoughts much quicker and piece together my words much better than before.
Even though debate is essentially disagreeing with the other side, you find confidence in your own answers and evidence. In the process, you have to think about the other side and why they are doing the same thing. You have to look at their evidence and their beliefs. You learn two perspectives at the same time. You learn valuable life skills, and that’s really important.”
Each year, Cornell University hosts an International Summer Debate Camp on its main campus in Ithaca, New York. Set on the lush and “gorge”-eous Ithaca main campus and led by the faculty and staff of the Cornell Speech & Debate program, the camp invites students from all over the world to engage in and advance their argumentation, debate, persuasive communication, and public speaking skills.
Open to any debate skill abilities and experience, the camp offers a blended learning approach with lectures from world-renowned Cornell faculty, a university admissions workshop, and intensive large and small cohort sessions culminating with a full debate tournament and awards banquet at the end of the camp.
Mayoral Scholarship: In partnership with the City of Ithaca Mayor’s Office, Cornell Speech & Debate is proud to work with Mayor Svante Myrick since the beginning of the International Summer Debate Camp to offer full day camper scholarships to middle and/or high school students in the greater Ithaca and Tompkins County area in New York who are accepted into the program.
“Debate is amazing!”
This was a common theme throughout our conversation with Palesa Mojapelo, one of the student leaders who participated in the Cornell-Pearson Debate Workshop held in 2016 and 2017 at the Pearson Institute of Higher Education (PIHE) in Johannesburg, South Africa. As one of top debaters in the program, Palesa was awarded a scholarship to attend the Cornell International Summer Debate Camp in Ithaca, New York as a debate teaching fellow for two summers.
As an experienced debater in high school, Palesa (or PK for short) eagerly shared why she wanted to get involved in collegiate debating and her experience, the skills and lessons she has learned from her debate training and how she hopes to spread speech and debate to more students in South Africa.
Can you share with how you became involved with speech and debate?
PK: Public speaking and debate has been a part of life for a long time. In primary school, I enjoyed speaking publicly, and in grade 7, I had the opportunity to represent my province in a public speaking competition. I attended two high schools in Johannesburg and both of them did not have debate programs. I am a self-professed go-getter so I went to my teachers and the school administrators to drum up support. I was successful in establishing a debate club in both schools, and then also had the opportunity to debate in inter-city championship tournaments. I
Given your experience with debate in high school, what motivated you to sign up for the Cornell-Pearson Debate Workshop?
PK: I really enjoyed my time at the Cornell-Pearson Debate Workshop. I saw it being advertised during orientation week and it felt like the right decision. There was no debate program at PIHE and I felt that it would be a good platform to learn university debate. I had also heard about Cornell’s debate program and this was also a motivation to attend the workshop – to see if I was as good as I hoped I was.
And what was your experience with the workshop?
PK: It was wonderful. Especially to see a group of other PIHE students like myself so interested in building this critical set of skills. What I enjoyed most about the program was that it really showed me how much debate was. Throughout the workshop, we played a lot of games that activated critical thinking. I normally expect debates and debate training to be formal and structured; however, the discussions and activities we had with Sam, the Cornell coaches and students really showed me how fun debate could be and we could apply the debate and persuasive communication principles and techniques to address everyday situations. I also heard Desmond Tutu’s quote, “Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument,” for the first time at this workshop – that affected me and it’s something I strive to bring to the students in a debate club that I coach and mentor at a local high school.
PK: Debate is amazing! It has really helped me with being more persuasive and more confident; It also helped with my presence and taught me not to be easily intimidated by my opponents. I am better able to tackle and address a problem and look at it from different perspectives. I think debate also heped me be open and friendly with others, to articulate well and to teach others. It has had a great impact on me.
What advice would you give to students who are new to debate?
PK: My advice for students who have never had debate experience before – try it before you can judge it. Debate offers opportunities to challenge yourself and it creates a great environment for self-development and opening your perspective about the world. The thing that I learned through my experience working with the Cornell debate program is that debate can be fun – it’s not a war of words, but an exchange of knowledge. This is important when we leave the classroom environment.
Debate is amazing!
Cornell Speech & Debate Society, in partnership with Pearson Education, sponsored and hosted summer debate workshops held on the campus of Pearson Institute of Higher Education in Johannesburg, South Africa. Over the course of program, Sam Nelson (Senior Lecturer, ILR/Director, Cornell Speech & Debate) and coaches and students of the Cornell Speech & Debate Society trained and coached students in the art and technique of argumentation and debate culminating in a debate tournament.
To learn more about how Cornell Speech & Debate Society can help you and your team advance argumentation, debate and persuasive communication skills, please e-mail Ming Shiao, Outreach Director, Cornell Speech & Debate, at email@example.com.
The Worlds squad had a busy spring break, participating in the Colgate Open on the 1st and 2nd of April, and then in the HWS Round Robin on the 8th and 9th of April.
Of the 6 teams participating in the Colgate Open, 4 teams broke to elimination rounds. The team of Sarah Karkoura and Ajay Kunapuli made it to Novice Finals, while the teams of Brittany Garcia and Denny Lee, and Daniel Stoyell and Rebecca Blair made it to Open Quarterfinals. In addition, the team of Adnan Muttalib and Enting Lee made it to Open Finals.
Cornell also picked up speaker awards at Colgate: in the Open category, Enting was 3rd speaker and Adnan 4th, and in the Novice category, Aniroodh Ravikumar was 3rd speaker, Denny Lee was 5th speaker, Sarah was 6th and Tony was 8th.
Adnan and Enting then traveled to Geneva, NY for the HWS Round Robin, a tournament which features the top 16 tournaments in the world. Beating teams from Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford and the International Islamic University of Malaysia, Adnan and Enting advanced to the finals of the tournament. They were also 6th and 4th speakers respectively.
The Worlds squad took 4 teams to New York City this weekend to compete at the Empire Debates, held at Kings College.
The team of Ankur Biswas and Inbum Lee reached the Open Finals, and after a tense hour spent debating determinism and free will, were crowned Overall Champions!
In addition, the team of Sarah Karkoura and Ajay Kunapuli reached the Novice Finals, beating out far more experienced teams on the way. Ajay was 4th Novice speaker, and Sarah was 6th Novice speaker.
Congratulations to all teams!
The Policy squad sent 4 teams to CEDA Nationals, the largest national policy tournament in the country. After multiple grueling preliminary rounds, 2 teams reached the elimination rounds.
The team of David Rooney and Gabriella Knight reached the Semifinals, narrowly losing their round on a 2-1 decision. Gabby was also the 22nd speaker of the entire tournament.
In addition, the team of Lauren Luciani and Nicholas Tilmes reached the Octofinals, establishing them as one of the top 16 teams in the entire country.
Congratulations to the Policy squad!