Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Linnet Davis-Stermitz ‘12 and Andrew Waks ‘13 placed fifth at the American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA) national tournament last Sunday at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. The Gazette talked to Andrew and Linnet to hear about their experience at the tournament and the life of debaters.
You placed fifth at Nationals this weekend. Are you happy with that? Did you go in with any expectations for yourselves?
Andrew Waks ‘13: I really had no idea what to expect, because, I mean, this is my first year doing APDA. I was hoping to do well.
Linnet Davis-Stermitz ‘12: Swarthmore has been having a lot of success this year. We’ve got a couple of really great kind of up and coming debaters, and I’ve had a bit of success as well. I can’t say that we expected to get fifth place, but we definitely had high hopes.
Has the team ever had such competitive success before?
AW: This is our best showing at Nationals since 1995.
LD: Swarthmore was one of the schools that started APDA, so this was when the league was a lot smaller. Obviously, Swarthmore students who won nationals were incredible debaters, but this is the first time in the new era of debate that Swarthmore has had a performance like this. It’s really exciting.
Both of you debated in high school, right? How does APDA compare to your previous debate experiences?
AW: I really like it. It’s really different. So the one thing that I feel like I learned a lot about [is] research and preparation from my other debate activities. But this sort of college debate pushes you to think on your feet and be really innovative and quick and creative in a way that I didn’t encounter in debate previously. There’s no preparation time. If you’re opposition, you don’t know what the topic is going to be until the government starts speaking. Also, the number of different diverse topics that you get to talk about is just very unique as compared to other types of debate.
LD: I feel like that’s particularly true of our experience at nationals. We debated a lot of teams that are very successful in APDA and who have had a lot of time to think about what kinds of topics they want to propose, so when we were in the opposition debating these kinds of teams we had to think very quickly about what the clever little link in the case was that we kind of had to know to be able to grapple with it, which is kind of exciting.
What was your favorite round in the tournament?
LD: I think my favorite round, maybe because it was emblematic of the ways that debate is constantly teaching you new things or getting you to think in new ways about old things, was a case that a team from Yale ran against us. [They proposed] that professors who intentionally passed students, [by] lift[ing] F’s to D’s, during the Vietnam War to prevent them from being drafted ought not have done [that]. Because the draft is a zero-sum game, every time you prevent someone proximate to you from being drafted, you ensure that someone further from you who doesn’t have the advantages of a college education, for example, will be drafted. And I’d never thought about that before.
AW: I think it’s cool that, even in the midst of a round, we can have this brand new historical thing presented to us that we’d never thought about – I think I knew that it happened, but I never thought about it – and have an intuition about it and then radically have that intuition challenged by the round.
Did you debate together before this weekend?
AW: Yeah, twice before.
LD: Often people have debated more, but, I was a senior this year and didn’t have a lot of time debating, and this is Andrew’s first year on APDA.
AW: But we have a 100 percent track record on reaching elimination rounds. We’re 3 for 3, and always will be.
I talked to quite a few prospective students at Ride the Tide who were interested in debating at Swat. Do you have anything to say to incoming students about Peaslee? There are a lot of people who debate in high school and don’t make the transition to college debate.
AW: I think a lot of people who did debate in high school have a similar experience to me in thinking that debate is one of the most personally and intellectually transformative and important experiences of their lives. There’s a lot of value in extending that commitment to college debate and to continue to learn and grow from debate and to be introduced to a new debate community of interesting and intellectual and engaged people. Swarthmore is also an intellectual and engaged community but it’s nice to break beyond that bubble and find new people to talk to about important issues. APDA is unique, I think among all the types of debate I’ve been exposed to, in forcing you to be really quick-witted, creative, fast-thinking and a compelling speaker as well. It’s helped me continue many of the things I appreciate about high school debate, driving me to look for intellectual pursuits outside the confines of classes, getting me competitively engaged in a healthy way, but I also think that in addition, it’s forced me to do unique things that I didn’t have to do in high school debate.
LD: Yeah, I don’t have a whole lot to add to that. I think it’s really interesting to be able to debate over all four years of your college experience and to see the way the things you want to debate about change or your attitudes towards the things that are interesting to talk about change. I could watch myself change the types of cases I would write based on what major I was thinking about at a particular time. It meant that the sum of all these debate rounds I’ve been in has been a kind of neat record of the thoughts that have been interesting to me over the past four years.
AW: Probably a lot more law cases after Nackenoff’s seminar.
AW: Oh, and to the people who didn’t do debate in high school, they should join debate in college for precisely the same reasons that I just said. It’s a transformative, amazing experience; there are so many awesome people, so many awesome things to talk about. There is nothing that I have done in my life that has enabled me to be a better student and a better thinker.