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STS competes at the Oxford Union

STS competes at the Oxford Union

By: Mr. Scott Mckay, Senior Debate Coach 

STS at Oxford 4 medSTS qualified as one of four Canadian teams to compete at Finals Day in Oxford this past weekend. The team of Zaki L. ’20 and Chelli S. ’19 were one of 116 teams to compete at the prestigious tournament that plays host to the best debaters in the United Kingdom (U.K.), Western Europe, Hong Kong, and the United States. The tournament took place on the hallowed grounds of the Oxford Union; standing in the Union was a surreal moment and a truly unique experience.

Oxford Finals Day, a British Parliamentary (BP) tournament is stylistically different from what a Canadian debater typically experiences. In the BP style, there are four teams in each round, two in favour of and two against the resolution. None of the teams work together in preparing their arguments and are in direct competition with each other regardless of the side of the bench on which they sit. The front half, both the first opposition and proposition teams work to structure the debate, presenting the arguments that are essential to the cleanliness of the round. The back half, on the other hand, provides arguments from a unique lens, a fresh take on the round. This extension to the debate must not be derivative, which means it needs to be new material from what is brought up in the front half. Thus while preparing, teams need to consider what will be brought up and how they can utilize their positions strategically. However, the biggest challenge is that only 15 minutes are allotted for preparation (at least five of which were spent searching for the room in which the debate is set).

Despite the challenging topics, Zaki and Chelli certainly held their own. They took second place in all four debates and earned a total of 8 points. In BP debate, you receive 3 points for winning, 2 for second, 1 for third and zero for finishing fourth. This point total was not enough to break into semi-finals, but it was good enough to finish 22nd overall. Despite not making semi-finals, Zaki and Chelli felt tremendous pride in finishing so well at such a prestigious tournament!

For Chelli, this is an end to her high school debate career – an excellent way to end her career in debate, might I add. Chelli has been an incredibly accomplished debater for STS. In Grade 10 she was part of a team that qualified for the Confederation Cup, a national tournament hosted in Ottawa focusing on the issues that face Canada as we entered our 150th birthday as a country. In Grade 11, she was invited to try out for Team Canada, and she also won the top speaker award at the Churchill Cup competition in Calgary. In Grade 12, not only did she qualify to Finals Day with Zaki, but she also won the Janet Garten Award for her contributions to debate in Alberta – an award voted on by coaches across Alberta. She did all of this while helping to coach the junior debaters in Middle School this year. Her contributions to the program, and her presence, will be missed when she moves on to university next year.

In addition to the competition this past weekend, we also used our time in the U.K. as an educational experience. By arriving earlier in the week, we were able to attend events and museums in London and Oxford. London was highlighted by a visit to the Tate Modern to experience the degenerate art exhibition, which included work by Otto Dix and others from Weimar Germany. The other highlight was attending an Intelligence Squared Discussion about Brexit where politicians such as Ian Paisley, Jr., a sitting member of the DUP, and Jess Phillips, a member of the Labour Party, discussed how to move forward with Brexit. In Oxford, we were able to meet up with STS alumna Maddie Milne-Ives ’13. The students enjoyed hearing about her experiences studying in Oxford and the research that she is completing for her program. Our Friday night ended with an invigorating lecture on populism and its impact on liberalism by Matthew d’Ancona who is a columnist for The Guardian and The New York Times. It was a truly unique experience to attend Finals Day in Oxford, and I just want to reiterate how lucky I am to work with such amazing students in our debate program.

I’ll use a final set of lines to say that if you wish to be part of the tradition of debate at STS, we always have a spot for you. There is nothing more valuable than learning to listen attentively to an argument, and then try to construct an answer to the contentions raised. It certainly is not an easy task, but the skills and rewards obtained in the pursuit of truth are worth the effort. Looking forward to a great 2019-2020 season, and many new faces!