Oregon debate excellence continues in quarantine

Although many activities and gatherings were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic,
a prestigious debate series survived

By Beatrice Kahn

This year, the Pacific Northwest division of the Ronald Reagan Great Communicator Debate Series occurred on May 2.  The debates were supposed to be held here in Beaverton but were instead held virtually over Zoom, representing students not only from the Pacific Northwest but from around the nation—including Beaverton student Beatrice Teals Kahn. Westview High School student Anwesha Mukherjee won first place out of almost 100 participants. She will later compete for the championship and a $25,000 scholarship. Anwesha plans to attend Stanford in the fall.

The Speech and Debate season, occurring from September to May and requiring hours of practice and hard work, is one of the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA)’s longest-running activities. Brad Garett, Assistant Executive Director of the OSAA, served on the panel of judges for the final round, which included past winners and Reagan Foundation executives. And Beaverton High School debate coach Kristine Igawa was part of the tournament administration. 

Often, students travel to tournaments around the region. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was the first time that the Ronald Reagan Great Communicator Debate Series’ Pacific Northwest Division took place online. During quarantine, debaters prepared two speeches from home, did hours of research, and spent an entire Saturday debating in Zoom breakout rooms. In her five rounds, Kahn competed against students from as far away as New York and Missouri and placed in the top half of the competition with a 3-2 record.  

The Great Communicator Debate Series is a unique style of debate because it focuses on appealing to regular citizens rather than debate jargon and rules. As an impromptu, extemporaneous, and student congress competitor, this style interested Kahn because one can capture big picture issues instead of fixating on small technicalities. This year’s debate resolution was: “States are more effective at legislating change to improve the environment than the federal government.” The competition allowed her to utilize speaking and critical thinking skills—skills that the competition’s namesake, former president Ronald Reagan, also used to address the country.

At the end of the day, the strategies used to prepare and argue the debates are universal. Being polite to fellow competitors, using metaphors to portray greater ideas, and using evidence to strengthen arguments led to Reagan’s nickname, “The Great Communicator.” The same skills are also great practice for writing essays and giving class speeches.

If any Beaverton High School students are interested in joining the speech and debate team, please contact Ms. Igawa (kristine_igawa@beaverton.k12.or.us). The skills students develop, such as evidence-based reasoning and thinking on their feet, can be applied to any career field.


Kahn debates with students around the United States. Photo courtesy of Beatrice Kahn.

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