Speech & Debate Wins Rounds and Makes Memories at Harvard

The Randolph Speech and Debate Team strikes a pose in front of Widener Library at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., after winning rounds at the National Speech and Debate Tournament, held the weekend of Feb. 17 through 20, 2023. Top row, left to right: Carolyn He, Thomas Draghi, Diya Patel, Briana Lange, Conner Cafero, Sophia Bonadio, Fernando Hernandez, Akash Parammal, Ayush Gupta. Bottom row, left to right: Vanessa Guo, Isabel Kao, Amritha Senthilkumaran, Alexandra Crane, Tanishka Shahoo, Kayla De Brito, Ryan Schorr.

Isabel Kao, Staff Reporter

Despite fierce competition, the RHS Speech and Debate Team won multiple rounds at the 2023 National Speech and Debate Tournament, held at Harvard University, from Feb. 17 to 20.

Thousands of students from 425 schools competed for only six winning slots in each event. Competitors came from all over the country, including as far away as Alaska, to speak and debate on the Harvard campus, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Randolph still scored some wins. Notably, senior Conner Cafero won for an interpretive piece he created only 30 minutes before a round and ran with on a whim. “I sang a song from ‘Notre-Dame de Paris’ in front of both my judge and opponent and somehow still won,” Cafero said, reflecting on what not surprisingly became his favorite round.

In their free time, RHS team members enjoyed bonding with each other as well as with students from other teams, shooting hoops and exploring beautiful Cambridge and Boston, among other activities. “I played basketball with a bunch of debate kids; you don’t get to do that every day,” junior Ayush Gupta said.

“I got so much closer to all my friends in Randolph,” said Carolyn Hu, a junior at Morris County School of Technology (MCST) who competed with the RHS team.

“It wasn’t just an educational and strict debate trip like most would think,” senior Amritha Senthilkumaran added. “I was outside visiting thrift stores and bookstores and getting food with my friends all the time.”

The tournament was clearly about more than just winning and losing; it was also a time for Randolph team members to meet and grow as both young adults and competitors. “I met this girl who came from Kentucky, and she was one of the funniest people I’ve ever met,” senior Isabel Kao said. “She even took photos of me for my Instagram.”

Team members agreed that a national tournament like this, where students can meet other debaters of different backgrounds and form connections with them, is a rare find.

Debate coach Katherine Burke called the trip “a major success” and expressed how proud she was of the team returning to the tournament after two years lost due to Covid. “Our team has earned 36 degrees of merit so far, with many more to come in the next few months,” Burke said. “In comparison, we only earned 25 degrees in the 2021-2022 season and 26 in the 2020-2021 season. We are second in the state in terms of new memberships, only trailing the first-place school [Ridge High School] by six members. Our team has grown by leaps and bounds this year, and I can’t wait to see where we go next.”

Some members of the team will soon find out exactly where that is at the New Jersey State Speech and Debate State Championships, being held at Hunterdon-Central Regional High School in Flemington this weekend, on Friday and Saturday, March 17 and 18.