Zaki Lakhani ’20 Demonstrates Leadership, Scholarship and Character at the World Individual Debating and Public Speaking Championships in Cape Town, South Africa

Grade Ten student, Zaki Lakhani’20, represented Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School and Canada with excellence at the World Individual Debating and Public Speaking Championships (WIDPSC),  held from April 9th to 14th at Bishop’s Diocesan College located in Cape Town, South Africa, accompanied by STS speech coach, Mr. Fink. We are delighted to announce that Zaki was named the World Champion in the Category of Interpretive Reading and placed 4th overall out of 160 competitors from 12 countries.

At this prestigious competition, each participant must enter four categories including Impromptu Speaking, Parliamentary Debate, Interpretive Reading and are offered a choice between the categories of After Dinner Speaking and Persuasive Speaking. In each category, students compete in two preliminary rounds and judges rank the competitors by providing scores based upon their performances.

The Finals consist of students who have ranked the highest in each of the perspective categories. Zaki advanced to the finals in both Impromptu Speaking and Interpretive Reading.

Once the Finals are completed, judges then rank the top two students in each event or the top four in Parliamentary Debate. Those selected then compete in the Grand Finals in front of everyone attending the competition.

Zaki was ranked among the top two in the Interpretive Reading category, advancing to the Grand Finals in this event. Zaki read a humorous short story by Woody Allen entitled The Rejection, which parodies modern parental neuroses by describing a wealthy German couple’s failure to have their three-year-old son accepted at an elite British preschool, and the downward spiral of fortunes that follows. The judges commented on how Zaki was able to successfully interpret the subtle humor and wit of Allen’s writing, which is difficult to achieve when read aloud. The irony that most of the competitors attended elite private schools was not lost on the judges, who appreciated the piece’s humor and wit.

In the Grand Finals, Zaki demonstrated excellence and was awarded the title of World Champion in Interpretive Reading.

At the competition, Zaki also presented a Persuasive Speech addressing the resurgence of genocide in the modern era. Within the speech, he detailed the processes of genocide and the common patterns within them while exploring and analyzing examples in history, before speaking about the ongoing plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority and the need for the international community to display a greater degree of accountability and action to ensure the protection of human rights and dignity worldwide.

During the preliminary rounds, the scores in each event are calculated and averaged to determine the top speakers overall. Awards were then presented to the top fifteen competitors, and we are extremely proud that Zaki was ranked in Fourth Place, making him one of the top five high school public speakers in the World!

In Cape Town, we were given a warm South African welcome to Bishop’s Diocesan College, an independent boy’s school, which was founded by Bishop Gray in 1849. Bishops has a long history, and a strong academic ethos committed to all- roundedness. In his opening remarks, John Holtman, the convenor of the event, indicated the strongest co curricular programs at his school included Speech and Debate and Rugby. Chairman of the Bishop’s College Council, Simon Peile, commented on “how South Africans are used to addressing challenging issues both in the socio-political sphere and in the environment sphere.” These topics came up several times during the week with references to apartheid and the death of Winnie Mandela during the competition. As well, Cape Town is experiencing severe water shortages and we came to understand how in Canada we often take water for granted. In our hotel, the taps had been changed to emit a spray of water rather than a flow and in many public washrooms, hand sanitizers replaced water in the taps. There was much controversy regarding the use of water and the government’s response to the water shortage, and it was interesting to observe how the city was responding to this crisis.

The Guest Speaker at the Opening Ceremonies was Christo Brand, a warden on Robben Island during former President Nelson Mandela’s incarceration there, and who became a close friend of his. In this speech, Brand spoke of what distinguished Mandela as a prisoner and as a remarkable human being. Upon his release from prison, it was Mandela who sought out Brand facilitating a friendship between the men and even their families. In fact, it was Mandela’s children who encouraged Brand to write a book about his experiences and who have encouraged him to continue to speak about their father. Brand spoke inspiringly of the cruelty of the prison system and how Mandela was able to forgive those who sought to break his spirit.

Below are some of Zaki’s thoughts on the fantastic experience he had attending the competition.

What was a highlight of your experience in South Africa?

Spending some time in South Africa prior to the tournament provided me with fantastic opportunities to experience its vivid culture and history. In addition to visiting Cape Town, I also visited Oudtshoorn and Knysna, which are more rural areas of the country. However, a definite highlight of my experiences was a trip to the Botlierskop Game Reserve. I was finally given the chance to have an authentic Safari experience and had astounding encounters with a variety of animals- from zebras to rhinos to wildebeests. Additionally, I learned the importance of the conservation efforts for the wildlife of Africa. This experience is something that I will never forget and I am grateful to have spent time exploring this beautiful country.

With regard to the competition, however, the greatest highlight of my experience at WIDPSC 2018 was the opportunity to interact with the incredible people I was able to meet. I made some great friends over the one week of the competition and I have now been able to form relationships with individuals all around the world who are moving on to excellent and exciting opportunities. Public speaking allows me to connect with others and I am so fortunate to have formed friendships with youth who possess a common passion for speech and debate.

How does this experience align with your current studies at STS?

The ideals of scholarship, leadership, and character were incredibly present throughout this experience. In my coursework, a high emphasis is placed on ideals such as critical thinking, open-mindedness, and investigation. Whether it be a spirited debate about the abolishment of hate speech laws or my persuasive speech outlining the resurgence of genocide in the modern era and the plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority, I was able to apply elements, discussions, and fundamental aspects of my studies to my preparation for the competition. I believe that this helped me to truly deliver messages with confidence, clarity, and insight and strengthened the impact of my communication.

Was the level of competition what you expected at a World’s tournament?

Absolutely! The participants in attendance were some of the most intelligent and confident public speakers I have ever seen, and the calibre of speakers was consistently high across all countries. However, I certainly could not have achieved these results on my own. Thankfully, Mr. Fink made a constant effort to help me sufficiently prepare to face such a high level of competition- I cannot thank him enough for his time, expertise, and support and I believe that the countless early mornings, lunch hours, and after school preparation sessions were well worth it!

What advice and you give younger students who wish to compete at this level?

I would encourage younger students to take every opportunity possible to hone their public speaking skills in any environment. Whether it be a simple class presentation to being a more active contributor in discussions inside and outside of school, possessing a desire and eagerness to communicate helps instill a high level of confidence early on that is critical when participating in any competition! STS also gives students various opportunities to build this skill- whether it be Speech Day to The Ultimate Speaking Club (TUSC) in elementary, I would definitely encourage students to embrace these opportunities! But most importantly, I believe that anyone can be capable of demonstrating effective public speaking skills. If you are passionate and invested in a message or point you wish to convey, having this level of passion and conviction can easily translate into the confidence to stand in front of an audience and say it!

How do you think this experience has benefited you most as a student?

I am extremely humbled to have been given this opportunity. Fundamentally, this experience has benefitted me in that it has reaffirmed to me that the skill of public speaking and critical thinking is invaluable both on a day to day basis and later in life. We communicate every day, and I believe that building on the tools and technique associated with public speaking allows people to possess an advantage over others in that they can be more perceptive, informed, and confident in their ability to interact and connect with others. I will continue to remain a passionate and active public speaker, and I encourage all other students in the STS community to do the same!