Home Team Shines at International Debate Tournament Hosted by BB&N

In a massive community undertaking, BB&N welcomed student debaters and their coaches from around the world for the International Independent Schools Public Speaking Competition (IISPSC), held October 31 to November 3 on the Upper School campus. 

(Pictured at left: Jack Lichtenberger '21, Alexi Melki '21, and Julia Shephard '22 at the International Independent Schools Public Speaking Competition hosted by BB&N)

Spearheaded by Speech and Debate Team Head Coach Sarah Getchell and Assistant Coach Zoe Balaconis, the event was co-hosted by The Hotchkiss School's Speech and Debate Team Coach David Conti. Together, they organized the four-day tournament comprising nine categories of competition for over 130 students from 44 schools in 8 countries, including the United Kingdom, South Korea, Peru, and South Africa. 

Following the final tabulations, the hometown team of Jack Lichtenberger '21, Alexi Melki '21, and Julia Shephard '22 placed an impressive tenth overall in this world-class field. Additionally, BB&N earned some spectacular individual accolades. With the top three competitors recognized in each category, Jack received the third-place award in Persuasive Speaking, and Julia won third in Impromptu Speaking. Additionally, based on the average of her scores in three events, Julia was one of the five Americans to qualify for the World Championships, to be held in Shanghai, China, in April. At 14, she is also the youngest to qualify from the IISPSC tournament. 

(Pictured above: BB&N Debate Team Co-captain Chongyuan Hong '20, fourth from left, with competitors from Bermuda, England, India, and Canada)

"Our fabulous team of three has been preparing for this tournament since last June," said Getchell. "In their first international tournament, they represented BB&N well, excelling in both their speech and debate events." A once-in-a-generation opportunity for the School, hosting the IISPSC, she noted, "has helped cement the BB&N Speech & Debate Team as a major player on the world independent school scene, though our students' wild success in the past few years has already earned us some great press!" 

All students competed in three events of their choosing, from various forms of debate—Parliamentary, Extemporaneous, Cross-X, for example—to such speech events as Interpretive Reading, After-Dinner, and Radio Newscast. 

While Julia sees value in all the categories, she says, "Debate, specifically, is really great because it helps you argue from both sides. I think there's a tendency in the world right now to alienate those that we don't agree with and say, 'well, you're inherently evil because we don't agree.' But it turns out that there's lots of different ways to look at an issue. I think that's been really valuable for my understanding of people and why people think what they do."

Alexi appreciated spending time with others who shared the same goals, who all are trying to improve their skills. "I learned a lot about my Canadian partner's methods in debate, and I thought that was super useful," he said. "I'm now adopting that technique."

A substantial benefit of hosting the Internationals is that dozens of BB&N Debate Team members who did not make the three-person team, as well as some students not even involved in Debate, still got to be involved by playing significant roles as hosts for visiting students, timekeepers, and ballot runners. "This involvement allowed almost all of our younger debaters the invaluable opportunity to see world-class competitors in events that they'll compete in in our New England independent school league," said Getchell. "I can't wait to see how it impacts their performance in and enjoyment of future speech and debate events." 

(Pictured above: District Attorney of Suffolk County Rachael Rollins '89, P '22 delivers the keynote address at the opening ceremonies.)

Contributing to this truly community endeavor, 10 BB&N families hosted students; seven Debate Team alumni/ae, current parents, and many faculty and staff served as judges—including Head of School Jennifer Price, who also made welcoming remarks at the Opening Ceremony, at which District Attorney of Suffolk County Rachael Rollins '89, P '22 delivered the keynote address.

Geoffrey Goose '20, a vital behind-the-scenes helper, appreciated "getting to meet people from all over the world," he said. "People from India who traveled 24 hours to get here, people who speak English as a second language and who are competing on a world stage, which is remarkable to me. Everyone's here to learn and have fun—the fraternal aspect of this is really interesting."

Balaconis noted that the BB&N students greatly enjoyed having these experiences with newly made friends "who are like live-action pen pals," she said. "The real magic is in spending time and learning about each other outside of the rounds. I've heard from our kids that hosting has been a fun experience—just to talk with others about what their houses are like and the rules they have. They're experiencing another culture and also seeing their own from an outsider's perspective. It's a cool thing."

Alexi found a special meaning in the global camaraderie of the tournament. "A lot of people I met have similar cultural backgrounds to me—being Lebanese, I'm part of multiple cultures—and that's something I could connect with," he said. "To be on a team where I can show to other schools that BB&N has students from different cultural backgrounds means a lot to me and is a great honor." 

The South African delegation from Bishops Diocesan College in Capetown found their experiences in Cambridge and Boston to be eye opening. "All of us live in a bubble," said Luke Rissik '20, "and until we do something like this, we only experience a certain group of people. When you come to something like this, where there's multinational involvement, you really get to understand what's beyond the closed gates of your school and what the world is really like."  

Jonathan Mopp '20 of Bishops noted, "The freedom to walk around the city by ourselves—that's something we aren't accustomed to." 

"It's amazing to see the houses here," added his teammate Lukas Oelz '21. "There are no fences around them, which is fairly different from what we have in South Africa, where we unfortunately have to have walls and fences due to circumstances. It's a very open environment in Boston; I think that's also what makes it enjoyable."   

With any luck, a few days of enjoying civil discourse in a world without fences will create global ripples as these potential future leaders return home.   

Written by Sharon Krauss, US English Department