UNIVERSITY PARK – Former President George W. Bush crowned on Sunday a new champion in his policy institute’s annual high school economic debate competition, telling the participants that “it’s awesome you’re willing to compete.”
Lillie Ouellette-Howitz from Minneapolis South High School in Minnesota won, after she argued that privatization of Mexico’s energy sector would benefit the country’s people. Bush said the subject was “fascinating” and that it “required a lot of critical thinking.”
And while George W. Bush Institute president Margaret Spellings noted that Bush “knows a little something about debate himself,” the former president said that made him only more impressed with the students.
“When I debated as president, I got hours of preparation,” Bush said. “When you debated for the coveted prize, you got 20 minutes.”
The Bush Institute – part of the George W. Bush Presidential Center at SMU – expanded its debate competition this year to include regional qualifiers held across the country. About 500 students participated, with nearly 100 high schoolers traveling to North Texas for the final rounds.
The debates are part of the institute’s 4% Growth Project, which aims to come up with policy ideas to boost the U.S. economy. (Bush teased the project’s director, Amity Shlaes, by saying that a still-recovering economy means she still has lots of work to do.)
The championship debate between Ouellette-Howitz and Hope Merens from Milwaukee, Wis., delved into complex discussions about everything from oligarchies to innovation. But Bush said the big takeaway was that the students were willing to study an issue in-depth.
“It’s very interesting to me that you’re the kind of person who wants to get away from the Internet and the computer and interface with students from around the world in a forum that’s competitive,” he said.