Senior Debaters Shine at Last Tournaments

Closing out their four years on the Speech and Debate Team with a bang, two seniors are going to need bigger trophy shelves after stellar performances at the year’s two preeminent, qualifiers-only tournaments. In the process, they have underscored BB&N’s position as a major player on the global debating stage.  

At the International Independent Schools Public Speaking Competition (IISPSC) in March, hosted online by Armbrae Academy and King’s Edgehill School in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Julia Shephard ’22 won both the Impromptu Speaking and the After-Dinner Speaking events. To ice that cake, based on her scores in the preliminary rounds, she earned the top American speaker honors and the 1st Place Individual Overall award. More than 200 students from over 80 schools—in South Korea, India, and South Africa, among others—competed in the prestigious event.  

Daniel Wang ’22 placed first in the Extemporaneous Speaking event, then went on with partner Tim Guan ’23 to win the Cross-Examination Debate event. These achievements also qualified Daniel to compete in the Worlds. 

A month later at the World Individual Debating & Public Speaking Championships (WIDPSC), held virtually at The Country Day School in Toronto, Canada after the pandemic scuttled plans for an in-person tournament in Lithuania, Julia and Daniel again distinguished themselves. Both got through the preliminary rounds to the finals—Daniel in Debate and Persuasive Speaking, and Julia in all four events: Debate, Impromptu, After-Dinner Speaking, and Interpretive Reading. 

Progressing to the grand finals in two events, Julia ultimately placed first in After-Dinner and second in Parliamentary Debate. Out of 115 competitors from 12 countries—including Australia, Morocco, Hong Kong, and Pakistan—she was awarded 2nd Place Individual Overall.  

“Just getting to compete in the competition was an incredible privilege,” Julia says. “A Worlds debate with the right people is both a fantastic learning opportunity and great fun—the analysis gets more high-level than in a lot of our regional tournaments.” Julia also went to Worlds in her tenth-grade year, when she placed third in Parliamentary Debate and nineteenth overall. She came away from that experience deeply inspired and very much wanting to have the chance again. She qualified last October by winning a regional league tournament.  

Reflecting on her accomplishments this spring, Julia says, “It feels like an amazing capstone to a very long high-school debate journey. I got to return to a competition I really wanted to go to; I worked hard; and I did myself proud. But beyond the results and the satisfaction of becoming quite good at some events, the process of practicing and competing reignited my love for debate.” 

Speech and Debate Team Head Coach Steele Sternberg says, “It is hard to imagine a more fitting final tournament for a competitor who has been a leader on our team and for our school since she arrived on campus four years ago. What’s more—Julia did so with a humility and grace that few people, let alone very successful high school students, possess.” 

In his first year as the team’s coach, Sternberg also acknowledged former Head Coach Sarah Getchell. “I feel very inspired by the fact that Sarah built a program that has such a strong female component,” he says. “Julia is a product of that.”

Julia’s four-year teammate and supportive friend Daniel Wang admits that although he and Tim Guan assiduously prepared for months before the IISPSC Cross-Examination Debates—their topic: Should government reparations to marginalized people be monetary?—they were nervous that it wouldn’t be enough to beat formidable competitors. “But we both realized during the competition that we had kind of out-researched and outsmarted our opponents,” Daniel says with a modest laugh. “Yeah, that was very satisfying.”

Two years ago, when BB&N hosted the Internationals at the Upper School, Daniel didn’t make the three-person team to compete, but he volunteered to be a helper in the Cross-Examination Debate event. A testament to his perseverance and hard work, he went from timekeeping as a sophomore to winning that very event as a senior. 

Sternberg also credits Daniel’s “deep wells of facts” for his success in the IISPSC Extemporaneous Speaking event. “He walked in and won something he’d never even tried before,” he says, chuckling. “The other impressive thing was his mentorship of Tim,” he adds. 

“Debate has been a great avenue for me to find my voice and not only improve my public speaking skills but also make amazing friends and become a more critical thinker,” Daniel says. “I became more engaged in politics and current events, and that has influenced what I've done outside of school and my other interests, so it’s been great.” 

Julia notes, “Debate has been the most defining community of my BB&N experience; it's been really important to me.” She appreciates that Debate has allowed her to explore different perspectives on issues, to experiment with various speech events, and to make friends from other schools in New England and from all over the world. 

Most of all, though, Julia is grateful for the BB&N team experience. “The team here is amazing; the people are the best,” she says. She labels the debate team “a special community” that spans generations of debaters. “There are things I taught freshmen this year that I learned from senior captains three years ago.” 

Sternberg says, “To me, Julia’s greatest accomplishment in debate lies not in the trophies and accolades she has won individually. It lies in the fact that when she left her final practice, six ninth-grade girls, eyes beaming, all lined up to give her hugs and thank her for inspiring them to commit to this club and team. She’s leaving us in such a strong place, with so many students inspired by her example.”

The seniors may have taken home the trophies, but Tim and his teammates have won the long-lasting prize of Julia and Daniel’s exemplary modeling and supportive collaboration.

- by Sharon Krauss (Upper School English Faculty)