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My remarks at the Korea Winter Cup (January 2013)

I’m honored to have been invited here today to see these incredible students compete for the Korean National Forensic League national championships.  I really enjoyed watching and judging the competition here today.

In the US, I wear many debate hats.  I am a debate coach for the Lakeland School District in New York, where I coach more than 50 high school debaters.  This year, the Lakeland District team has already competed in sixteen tournaments in 8 states in the US, and now we have competed in another country on a different continent.  I am also an assistant debate coach for the Harvard Debate Council where I work with their policy debate team and support the development of their academic programming for secondary school students, both in the United States and abroad, and I work with the US National Forensic League on their international programming.

As the coach for the Lakeland School District, I’d like to thank NFL Korea for opportunity that they have afforded my students, Priten and Mihir, to debate here today at the National Assembly. I’d also like to thank them for the incredible hospitality that they have shown us over the last few days.

As a coach for the Harvard Debate Council, I’d like to thank NFL Korea for the support that they have provided us to move the curriculum that we have developed with the US NFL to an online environment. I’d also like to invite everyone here to the Harvard High School Invitational tournament in February of this year. That is an open invitational that can be attended by anyone in the world. We also have our International Public Forum Championships in April for NFL Korea’s top students who have qualified through the tournaments this year. Finally, of course, I’d like to invite all of you to participate in the Harvard Debate Council Summer Workshops.  Given the abilities that I’ve seen on display here today, I know that all of you would fit right in this summer.

I know that the US National Forensic League decided to work with NFL Korea not only because of NFL Korea’s commitment to the development of speech and debate opportunities here, but also because of their commitment to social justice and progressive social change. We can see that attitude reflected in many of the topics the students have chosen to discuss, and it is exciting to see the values of the leaders of the organization, particularly Ms. Heidi Son, the CEO, reflected throughout the entire organization.  She is one of the kindest and most genuine people that I have ever met.

The motto for the US National Forensic League is “give youth a voice.”  Today, we saw the youth of Korea express their voices on many important topics, including the competitive stresses in the Korean educational system, some of the disadvantages associated with the development and rise of the English Language schools, and the social controversies related to US military presence in Asia.   The motto for the Korean National Forensic League is “give youth a stage.” NFL K provided the students today with an incredible platform to express their voices, a literal stage in Memorial Hall at the Korean National Assembly and in front of an audience of highly interested and influential people.

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit Doha, Qatar for an argumentation and debate conference. While I was there, I met many great people involved in Qatar Debate. The motto for Qatar Debate is, “Debaters today, Leaders tomorrow.”  Debate is well known as an educational environment and method to produce leaders, and when you provide youth with an opportunity and a stage, leaders are exactly what you get.

In the US, many of the country’s most respected leaders, including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotamayor and New York University President Roger Sexton, participated in the same speech and debate events that were showcased here today. Debate provided them with opportunities not only to develop leadership skills, but also to develop life-long friendships at an early age with other students who would emerge as future leaders

We now live in a time where speech and debate events are being developed world-wide. Since many of these opportunities are being developed in the English language, the emergence of speech and debate opportunities throughout the world, and the growing number of opportunities for students to compete not only in domestic competitions as well but also in international competition, means that today’s students who participate in speech and debate have the opportunity to develop strong ties with the tomorrow’s leaders from all over the world.  This provides us with an opportunity to develop what Dr. Jeong-Woo Kil, a member of the Korean National Assembly and a founder of the English Speaking Union in Korea, described earlier today as a “culture of understanding through English.”

At the conference in Qatar, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, AKA the queen of Qatar, delivered the opening address.  Her Highness Is the Chair of the Board of the Qatar Foundation, the largest educational foundation in the world and the sponsor of Qatar Debate.  In her speech, she stressed the importance of providing students with the opportunity to develop speech and debate skills in order create dialogue and lessen the degree of conflict in the world.

Speech and debate events, such as the competition today, create opportunities for the students to develop not only a strong academic skill set, but also to fulfill dreams of people like the Sheikh who long for a more peaceful world.   I’d like to congratulate NFL Korea for providing that opportunity.