The Upper School's speech and debate team made history with a couple of remarkable first-time achievements at the recent four-day International Independent Schools Public Speaking Competition. Now notched in the annals of the 39-year-old championship, BB&N is the first American team ever to win the 1st Place School trophy, and Alexi Melki '21 is the first American competitor to earn 1st Place Individual Overall, a title determined by the total points achieved in three categories of speech and debate performances.
Also contributing to BB&N's stellar final standings, Elise Hawkins '21 was awarded 3rd Place Individual Overall, Julia Shephard '22 won 1st Place After-Dinner Speech, Alexi won 1st Place Persuasive Speech, and Alexi and Jack Lichtenberger '21 walked away with 1st Place Cross-Examination Debate Team after addressing this timely topic: "Has COVID-19 done more harm than good towards multilateralism?"
Speech and Debate Team Coach Sarah Getchell attributes the successes of the six-person Internationals delegation, which also included Laura Cox '22 and Daniel Katz '22, to the entire team's hard work and collaboration. "The competitors tested their speeches and debated the tournament debate topic in front of the whole team. They received helpful feedback from everyone—from novices to alums!"
Schools from around the world took part in this online meet, one of the two largest international independent school tournaments of the year—and the one BB&N hosted live last year.
"Finding ways to set yourself apart at such a high level of competition doesn't come in a few weeks; it takes years of losses, focused effort, and experience to be a prominent speaker at Internationals," Alexi says.
The caliber of the world-class field awed Elise. "I was not expecting to place as high as I did because there were so many wonderful debaters," she says. "In my cross-ex (prepared) debate, Julia and I faced a very clever Canadian team that made me realize how high the level of competition in the tournament was going to be. I was ecstatic to learn that I placed third!"
For Alexi, the 1st Place Individual win was a testament to his resilience, patience, and dedication. "When I opened the results, the first thing I thought of—after jumping in joy, of course—was 'This was my moment. This is what I worked for. This just made all the losses worth it.'" Mulling some deep disappointments along the way, Alexi says, "I thought of giving up at times, but this win has given me trust in the process—that if I put full effort into perfecting even the most minute aspects of my work, I could be setting myself up for a chance to win.
Alexi's efforts paid off in yet another exciting way: with his achievements at Internationals, he also qualified for the World Championship of Independent School Debate, to be held in South Africa, pandemic permitting, in early summer 2021.
"Alexi works harder than any debater I've ever known," says Getchell. "He's got a heart and a storyteller talent that, combined with his analytical skills, make him pretty unstoppable in the speech and debate world today."
Following his heart, Alexi decided a couple weeks before the Internationals to jettison the 13-minute persuasive speech about the U.S. federal drinking age that he had worked on for months and to write a new one about Lebanon's current crisis. "Lebanon is my family's native country, and I knew deep inside that my strong personal connection to a topic I was passionate about would allow me to write a speech that stood apart," he says. "But little did I know that speech would end up winning first in persuasive speeches." Listen to an edited version of Alexi's speech here.
Elise and Alexi agree that the many high-school hours they have given to the speech and debate team have rewarded them with a valuable skill set. "The skills I learn in debate, impromptu speaking and critical thinking, will be applied to nearly every future situation I encounter," says Elise.
Alexi has seen his debate experience benefit his writing's argumentation, organization, and clarity. "It has improved my vocabulary and conversational skills tremendously. Those skills have proven useful in college interviews, internship interviews, and even class discussions," he says. He also attributes to his experience an increased confidence in speaking assertively as a coxswain and a multiple-team captain, and he recommends that everyone should try debate.
"You will grow not only as an intellectual," Alexi says, "but as a person, as well."
--by Sharon Krauss, Upper School English--