I’m very excited to be here for the 5th annual National High School Academic Debate & Speech Tournament Championship.
It’s humbling to be able to be able to welcome more than 175 PF teams and more than 60 OO students who have qualified to compete in this year’s competition.
On this 5th anniversary, I would like to highlight five achievements of this program.
The academic success of the students. When I first came to China nearly 6 years ago, I traveled to some of the major cities giving presentations on the value of debate. The idea of academic debate was mostly foreign to many, and I had to convince people to participate in it. One of the slides I displayed showed the winners of a major national tournament in the US and where they would be attending university. This list was quite impressive, and all of the topic public and private universities were included. Of course, I was not certain exactly how this would play out in China in terms of where Chines students could expect to be admitted, but I took a chance and implied that significant participation in academic debate would support one’s admission to the best universities in the US.
Was I right? It seems so. Our first graduating class in the program as admitted to many fine US universities, including Cal Berkeley, Wake Forest, which I attended, and Welsley. This year, students who have demonstrated success in this tournament series, including last year’s winner, have been admitted to Harvard, Yale, and the University of Chicago. Just as in the US, students who demonstrate significant commitment to academic debate in China are being admitted to the best US universities.
The cooperation among partners. This tournament is directly supported by the US National Speech & Debate Association and other institutions that have collaborated to make this debate program a success, including the Global Academic Commons, Millennial Speech & Debate, the Harvard Debate Council Summer Workshops, the US Tournament of Champions, The Society for Innovation, Dipont, and all of our supportive host and partner schools. Since these institutions have been able to work together and support each other, we have been able to provide the very best instructional opportunities in the world to all students who have attended this program.
The dedication of the families of the students. As my parents learned early on, supporting someone with a passion for speech and debate is not easy. It takes a significant commitment of time, resources, and, sometimes, patience to support a child who is enthralled with competitive speech and debate. I only came to China six years ago to help start this program and I am only here today because my parents supported my interest in speech and debate. Debate’s gamification of education instills of love of learning, and we know that supporting it requires a lot of love from parents and other family members. Parents, we are fortunate to have you, and please know that having a child who loves to learn is something you should be proud of.
The accomplishments of the staff. Everyone agrees the NSDA tournaments are the best in China—they are the largest and the most well run. They are the most competitive. Our students are prepared. Without tournaments, students are not driven to compete and learn at the highest levels. Substantial high quality empirical research shows that it is the tournaments that drive the most valuable part of the academic gain that students experience from participation.
The adaptability of the program. In the fall of 2012, we had our first tournament in China. There were 80 teams – a lot, but I think they were from only 2 schools. They were all high school students. All of the training was done in schools. This year, students who represent more than 100 schools competed in NSDA China tournaments. The total number of participants this year was close to 5,000. Today we have in-school training, out of school classes, we have older students tutoring and training younger students, and we have some students starting to learn online.
As this program expands and grows, it, like all great programs and organizations, will adapt to change. Programs that adapt, develop, and capture the passion of students thrive.
So, today, as we start our 5th annual national tournament, I’m very happy to be here with you, both to reflect on the past, to enjoy the competitive moment, and to think about our future together. To date, this program has positively impacted the lives of more than 15,000 students, and I look forward to seeing the impact it has on tens of thousands more in the future.
Finally, in conclusion, I must say that beyond enjoying the moment, celebrating your academic gains, and thinking about your future, please take a moment to reflect on what you have learned in debate and how you can use that to make the world a better place. In the end, we are all here today, and we have a program that more than 15,000 students participated in, because one man, Benson Zhang, had an idea to bring academic debate to China and Jeff Zhu actualized that idea. I hope that some day all of you have such a good idea and that the skills you have learned through your participation will help you bring it to fruition.