by Luke ’27
I love many Harvard-Westlake extracurriculars, but the debate program is surely my favorite. An avid debater even before I came to HW, I was quick to sign up for 7th grade debate. 7th graders participate in a style of debate called the Middle School Public Debate Platform (MSPDP). This style has teams of three debaters, which fosters teamwork and allows you to meet others passionate about debate. MSPDP is a simpler style of debate, with increased focus on logic and presentation. It has a low barrier for entry which allows new students to get involved, but it certainly can be rigorous if students want. My team put everything we had into our preparation, and won the National Championship. No matter how you perform, it’s a great place to gauge your interest in debate, and see if you want to continue next year.
Despite greatly enjoying previous years of debate, my 8th grade debate experience thus far is unmatched. 8th graders participate in the Lincoln-Douglas (LD) format of debate, which has more of a focus on intense preparation and research, along with more complex arguments and ethical principles. Lincoln-Douglas is also one on one, so despite the team working together for prep, we compete without our teammates. These changes are significant, but you aren’t thrown into the deep end immediately. 8th grade is a Novice year, where your competitors are new to the style just like you. Harvard-Westlake also has some of the best coaches in the country, former champions ready to teach you everything you need to know. Another benefit of Lincoln-Douglas is the complexity of the topics. One topic will usually span several months, and dozens of tournaments. This allows students like myself to dive deep into the literature of the topic. Just this year I’ve learned the ins and outs of a single payer healthcare system, China’s environmental policy, and immigration reforms.
A more intangible aspect of the program is the camaraderie within the team. This is largely from the tournaments, which operate differently than in 7th grade. LD tournaments are often far away or out of state, leading to the team traveling together. Friendships are built during road trips up to a tournament in NorCal, or in hotel rooms where students hang out and prepare the night before the tournament. Those friendships are strengthened through each and every tournament, year after year. Seniors who participate in debate are inseparable, tied to their teammates just as much as the sport they play together in. Despite being a one on one competition, debate at Harvard-Westlake is truly a team sport.
I’m only in my second year of Harvard-Westlake debate, and yet it has already taught me so much. Research, critical thinking, public speaking, persuasion, active listening, organization, and even creativity. These future life skills are invaluable, and I cherish the opportunity to develop them in a fun and competitive environment. I can confidently say that the debate program has been an impactful experience for me, and I look forward to continuing to grow and learn as a debater.