As Public Service Programs Coordinator at the BBA, I get a firsthand look at the great work the BBA and its volunteers do on behalf of Boston youth, veterans, and unrepresented litigants. That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to participate in a BBA Public Service Program as a Boston Debate League judge at English High School in Jamaica Plain on Friday.
While I had participated in debate during high school, it had been seven years since I had attended a debate tournament and I was not sure what to expect. When I walked into my first round, I saw two boys skateboarding in the corner and two girls chatting with each other about their weekend plans. I could barely hear the students when I asked them to introduce themselves and the teams exchanged awkward handshakes without making eye contact. The first girl who stood up to speak was so nervous that she restarted her speech three times. However, halfway through her speech the dynamic in the room completely changed. She began speaking louder and placing emphasis on her key arguments. At the same time, the two boys on the other team began furiously writing out their next speech and rustling through their folders for the evidence to counter the arguments. Both teams spent the rest of the hour long debate firing questions back and forth and discussing the pros and cons of eliminating the United States’ trade embargo on Cuba. The second round followed a similar format where the students were initially very shy and disengaged but started passionately debating the strengths and shortcomings of the Cuban healthcare system and the United States’ moral obligation to address the widespread human rights violations and political oppression in Cuba a few minutes into the round. It was clear that these students are passionate and driven and debate brought out these qualities.
As a former high school debater, I can honestly say that debate had the biggest impact on my preparation for college and professional endeavors because it helped me develop critical skills at an early age. Debate helps you improve skills, such as public speaking, research, and critical thinking, while also building confidence. Boston Debate League brings this opportunity to high school students throughout the Boston public school system who may not get this chance elsewhere.
I encourage you to see the impact of Boston Debate League for yourself by judging at an upcoming tournament. The commitment is small—just 4 hours—and you can volunteer on a Friday or Saturday depending on your schedule. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how to get involved.
Katie D’Angelo is the Public Service Programs Coordinator at the Boston Bar Association.