April 14, 2010


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Intellectual discussions fascinate me. The thrill, adrenaline and emotion of participating or witnessing great debates compare to riding the world’s largest roller coasters. I have always held an admiration for great debaters. Their arguments are structurally presented gems of knowledge, developed through the insight of life experiences and thorough research. They introduce new content, question current theories and ideologies. Their intent is often selfless, and no matter which side they must defend, they do so with genuine attempts to try and progress or dissolve certain institutionalized structures of society.

But in debate, content is only half of the game, and the mastery behind their delivery and presentation must also be commended. The near genius restraint of tone allows these intellectual giants great control over the expression of emotions and thoughts that are shared with the audience. Like soccer, where the screams of fans and ferocity of soccer hooligans can inspire a team to excel, debate is a spectator sport. The speaker will use their stylistic charm and wit to garner the support of the crowds. Once the audience is following intently, the speaker will build off of the nods and bangs of approval that erupt from the audience when an excellent point is argued or rebutted. The confidence that brews from the audience interaction is then recycled by the speaker, allowing them to enunciate in an even more powerful assuring nature their closing arguments, which leave spectators captivated, and most importantly persuaded.

Over the last two weeks some of the best debaters from around the world were invited to compete in tournaments throughout the northeast. I attended and competed at some of these tournaments. To many it was just another debate tournament, but to me the past few weekends might as well have been a trip to Six Flags.

Leading up to the HWS Top 16 Invitational, Colgate University hosted its first annual International Varsity Debate Tournament, which allowed American students to preview the prowess of some of the international teams. Within the first round, rumors of the quality of the foreign competition began to spread throughout Colgate’s halls. One debater captured the sentiment of most American teams when describing the team from Sydney: “They’re mythical creatures, they glow when they speak; I have never seen anything like it.” I was hesitant to believe such a claim, but as the day went on, the rumors became fact as American teams fell to Sydney. Cornell’s freshman team, which consisted of Alex Bores ’13 and Ryan Yeh ’13  made it to the finals where they faced Rhodes and Sydney in a topic that was very much welcomed by the packed auditorium: This house would legalize duels to the death. To no surprise, Sydney took first place.

The next stop for some of the international teams was Ithaca, N.Y. Cornell hosted the champions from Slovenia, Ireland and South Africa in an exhibition debate that also featured a Cornell team. The exhibition topic, “Has Obama Failed the International Community?” was widely attended by the Cornell community and expertly handled by the debaters. All speakers made great arguments, but the audience was wooed by Ireland’s whip speaker, Marguerite Carter, whose style is notoriously witty and used humor to break down the government’s case. She opened her speech with the following line:“They claim Obama hasn’t done enough stuff, that the international community wants more stuff and that he hasn’t built enough magical Disney Lands around the world.” The crowd was in an uproar of laughter and applause. The winner was judged by audience applause, and first place was dealt to the team representing Ireland. I shared a few words with the South African team after the exhibition debate and Ingrid Cloete, currently a law student at Rhodes whose career aspiration is to bring access to lawyers and good representation to all people in South Africa, including the poor, had a few thoughts to share with Cornell students: “People hear South Africa and only think of apartheid, but South Africa is a vibrant and passionate place, where everyone is involved and working together to make the country better.” Her debate partner, Clive Eley, is originally from Zimbabwe, he spoke to me about the dangers of advocating in Zimbabwe and how, under their current dictator Robert Mugabe, politics aren’t debated, rather arguments are won with violence and murder.

The following weekend was the main event, the Hobart William Smith Annual IDEA International Top 16 Invitational. Each nation’s debaters had unique mannerisms when shutting down points of information. Bronwyn Cowell from Sydney would keep the house in order with three words, “Take-a-seat!”. She was cunning, humorous and brilliant throughout every round and ended up receiving the second top speaker position in both tournaments. Entering her final year in law school, her aspirations are to become a barrister and eventually go into teaching.

The team from Tel Aviv used a soothing almost hypnotic wave of their hands to politely ask the opposing team to sit down. I spoke with Tel Aviv after watching one of their rounds and they asked me to share with the Cornell community that Israel has lots of diversity and that not everyone is fundamentalist or conservative. They were both for a two state solution, but were pessimistic about their government, claiming that extremists within the political scene are becoming more entrenched and gaining power.

The final round, to no surprise, featured the team from the University of Sydney, but sitting across from them was the two freshmen from Cornell. The debate was about the government banning parents from genetically manipulating their children to prevent a predisposition to homosexuality. Ryan Yeh opened up his speech with a joke regarding how his parents have many expectations for him, and how he can’t always live up to them. Tim Mooney from Sydney walked to the podium, and with a booming voice he opened his speech, “My parents expect perfection, and I deliver every time.”  He was absolutely right. The top speaker awards at Colgate IV and at the HWS Invitational were Tim and Bronwyn from Sydney.

Neither Cornell’s underdog team nor Sydney’s legendary team won the big tournament, but both teams are extraordinary debaters and truly uphold the spirit of debate. In today’s age of globalization, no nation can survive in isolation. The world continues to flatten, and the economies of nations and welfare of its citizen become increasingly interconnected and dependent on each other. After witnessing students from all cultural spectrums discuss global issues, I am proud to say that there is hope for humanity. Debate is an ideal venue for preparing future global leaders, for it is key that tomorrow’s leaders visit and experience each other’s cultures in order for our generation to unite and be able to handle the plights of poverty and climate change which can only be approached with universal efforts.

Original Author: Vicente Gonzalez