STUDENTS | December 5, 2020
Lisa G., a senior at Thomas Kelly College Prep in Brighton Park, will never forget her second-ever debate tournament with her long standing partner and friend, Kelly L.
“The tournament ended up being really long. We debated most of Friday evening and almost all of Saturday,” said Lisa. “We were drained, but we ended up winning the tournament. It felt surreal to make it that far—especially as novices.”
Now, several years later, she and Kelly say their final season as partners has gone even better than they expected. In their two tournaments so far this year, they’ve ranked among the top two teams and have both received awards as individual speakers.
Both students are quick to point out how their partner has been instrumental to their success as a duo.
“Lisa is extremely smart and brings so much outside knowledge to debate,” said Kelly. “When it comes to confusing arguments, she is great at helping us both understand them and picking up arguments that are new to her.”
“Kelly might be the fastest speed reader in our entire conference,” said Lisa. “She also has an extremely quick response rate and is able to think up witty remarks if the other team tries to gain leeway through asking a sneaky question.”
Lisa is also quick to point out that her friend is only a junior in high school, so even though Kelly is already one of the top varsity debaters in the entire city, she still has another year to become even better.
This year, the pair has worked hard to recreate the synergy that typically comes from working through arguments while seated next to your partner. Lisa notes that debating remotely means there might be a dog barking or pots clanging in the background when you try to speak, but both students agree that there are quite a few positives that balance out the distance and occasional technical difficulty.
“We got to have cool judges from other states that give us wonderful feedback,” said Kelly. “Some of the ones who recently judged us made it to the NDTs in college debate, which is a pretty big deal.”
Over the past few months, Lisa and Kelly have been digging into this year’s topic: criminal justice reform. In particular, they’ve been centering their arguments on the relationship between police militarization and racial injustices. Debating policy has always been a strength for both of them, and this year they’re hoping to expand their skill sets even further.
“When we talk about policy, we’re outlining a plan that the U.S. Federal Government can implement,” said Lisa. “But there are also theoretical arguments that criticize the thinking behind the policies. This year, I want to get a better grasp of the theory behind each argument.”
Building a close partnership through debate has meant more to Kelly and Lisa than winning trophies—they’ve become great friends, too.
“I consider Lisa one of my best friends because of debate, so I open up to her more about my personal struggles and she gives really good advice,” said Kelly. “We also have some classes together and text each other a lot, and getting to know each other just makes us even closer.”
For any new pair, Lisa and Kelly recommend spending time building a relationship by doing things other than just preparing for debate tournaments together. Doing this has helped them see debate as more than just a competition.
“At the end of the day, debate isn’t about winning and losing, it’s about the knowledge you’re getting and the relationships you’re building through the activity,” said Lisa. “Partners should communicate and work over hurdles that they have; holding it in your heart just makes it worse.”
The duo believes that the skills they’ve learned through debate are useful in a wide range of situations, including responding to problematic Instagram comments, thinking up a quick response when called on in class, writing essays, and submitting their college applications.
And on top of everything they’ve learned through debating, they’ll also walk away from their three years as partners with a great friendship and too many memories to count—from debating virtually to winning that first tournament together.