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Perspective: A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words

Achievement & Community

May 31, 2023 – The old adage rings true – a picture is worth a thousand words. After three long years without live events (as expressed in my most recent post), the sights and photos from this spring’s Annual Dinner and Urban Debate National Championship practically left me speechless. As the NAUDL staff reveled in the triumphs – and managed the challenges – of four consecutive days of events in Dallas, the students and coaches had the most poignant commentary. In their sentiments, we found two common threads: a sense of achievement and a spirit of community.

Indeed, to paraphrase 2023 Coach of the Year Kris Wright (Dallas Urban Debate Alliance – DUDA) in his speech at the Annual Dinner, the real power of debate manifests as “the capacity to reflect, to push each other towards excellence, and to nurture the best in each other.”

Kris Wright with DUDA students and alumni at the NAUDL Annual Dinner — George W. Bush Presidential Center, Thursday, March 30, 2023, in Dallas, TX. (Taylor Glascock/for NAUDL)

“The theme that continuously reappears,” Kris expressed, “is the power of community. In innumerable ways, the students I have served over the last 20 years have profoundly changed the trajectory of my life.”

Debater of the Year Liv Birnstad gives acceptance speech at NAUDL Annual Dinner. (Taylor Glascock/for NAUDL)

Speaking of trajectories, 2023 Debater of the Year Liv Birnstad (Washington Urban Debate League) shared how “debate has been the fundamental building block for how I view the world and my power within it.” As Liv discussed her debate journey at the Annual Dinner – thanking those who made an impact along the way, what was notably impressive was her complete composure. Not only would the next day commence her final high school debate competition, but just two hours before she would take the stage, she learned she was accepted into the Harvard University Class of 2027. It was an announcement that brought goosebumps to all attendees in the room. Thanks to debate, said Liv, “I could imagine going to these institutions” with the confidence “to follow my dreams.”

Olivia Northcutt-Wyly (front row, far left) poses with her fellow Alumni Ambassadors ahead of the UDNC — Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. (Taylor Glascock/for NAUDL)

One of the final highlights of the weekend, beyond the final rounds of competition, was the interaction among the Alumni Ambassadors – students who are now in college, but who wish to give back to the network. I must say, it is an ongoing point of personal pride to see our relationships expand with recent alumni. This is especially true when these young leaders are as eloquent, determined and accomplished as our 2020 Debater of the Year and 2023 Alumni Ambassador Olivia Northcutt-Wyly (also of DUDA), now a student at the University of Southern California. In a special Alumni Address, Olivia shared that “debate didn’t just change my life, it gave it purpose.” While that might “seem dramatic,” they explained, debate empowered them to take initiative and successfully advocate for change in their community around inclusion and accessibility. “The work that I did in debate, and the experiences I have had, have given me a path forward in my life.”

An engaged network shared their excitement on social channels throughout the tournament weekend.

As we move on to the “next big things” like shepherding our new partnership with Newsweek and welcoming a new class of White & Case NAUDL Fellows this summer, the energy, enthusiasm and clarity of these testimonials continue to resonate. If you are as inspired as I am by these messages, please consider volunteering at your local league or making a donation, large or small, to NAUDL in support of our programs and events – knowing that you will undoubtedly make an immediate impact in the achievements and community of the Urban Debate Network.

Rhonda Haynes
Executive Director

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