Debate Is Leadership

“Be on the lookout for [students] who have participated in speech and debate training. Hire them and put them on your leadership fast track. They’ve spent hundreds of hours perfecting their speaking skills. Many have done intensive research to write their speeches. All have endured the pressure that competition brings and performed well intellectually under such pressure. They’ve made connections and friendships with other high performing peers. All of these behaviors are excellent predictors of success on any leadership team.”

Robert Sher, CEOtoCEO (Forbes)

From their teams, to their communities, to the campus, to the workplace and beyond – debaters are leaders. Just a few former debaters who have made tidal waves in our culture include:

  • In Activism
    Malcolm X, Bayard Rustin, Jane Adams, & Paul Robeson

  • In the Arts
    Tony Kushner, Toni Morrison, & Bruce Springsteen

  • In Business
    Lee Iacocca, Ted Turner, & Jack Dorsey

  • In Journalism
    Edward R Murrow, Diane Sawyer, & Lisa Ling

  • In Law
    Sonia Sotomayor, Samuel Alito, & Laurence Tribe
  • In Policy
    Kofi Annan, Barbara Jordan, and 8 former US Presidents

Why does debate create changemakers?

Because students want to be engaged, to be successful, and to lead – and the debate provides the tools to access their own power.

The process of becoming a debater cultivates the qualities our future leaders need most.

In practice, students learn to think bigger – gaining tenacity and vision from tackling challenging ideas.

In competition, wins impart confidence and motivation. Losses draw out inner strength and resilience.

Beyond the activity, debate changes the way students see themselves, the world around them, and their place in it. Incisive perspectives and crucial skills propel debaters to make change in our communities.

Local Leaders Champion Debate

Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan 

“In high school, I tried to shrink myself. Forensics changed my life because I was seen, I was heard, I was valued – because my voice mattered. I started to value my worth in this world and to make people laugh and listen… Every time I give a speech – it’s because of my coach.”

Don Lewis, co-founder of Nilan Johnson Lewis 

“In law, we develop skills of advocacy, critical thinking, and skills in problem-solving. Those traits make you successful in the legal profession. I think urban debate is all about that. You’re in essence preparing people to succeed in law.

Representative Ilhan Omar: 

I’m excited to see many people who have participated in this program become leaders of today and of tomorrow, whether it is as a community leader, a business leader, a mayor, a city council member, a state legislator, a member of Congress, and maybe even a president of the United States.” 

What Debate Gave to Influential Leaders

A Lens For Seeing Many Perspectives 

“Learning debate was an important early impact on my way of thinking. You are taught that there are always at least two sides to public policy questions, and you have to learn a good argument for both sides and know how to critique both sides.”

Elinor Olstrom, Nobel Prize-winning economist

“Invaluable Skills” for Any Career 

“Debate taught me how to form and defend a logical argument, how to think on my feet, and how to speak in a public forum. These skills became invaluable since I have used them continuously throughout my career.”

Dr. Celia Schiffer, internationally renowned researcher of HIV drug resistance:

Flexibility to “Juggle” Responsibilities

“From debate, I learned how to think critically, how to develop arguments, how to speak clearly, and how to research. Everything I do – teaching, writing, and advocacy – uses these skills… Debate prepares one for juggling the many things we all must do.”

Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean Of The University Of California, Irvine School Of Law

The Power of Persuasion

“The debating team is where I developed my speaking skills and learned to think on my feet. The experience of being on the debating team was crucial. You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your brains won’t get you anywhere.

Lee Ioccaca, former Ford and Chrysler CEO

The Vision to Build & Skills to Lead

“I’m so grateful for being on the speech and debate team. It was through all those practice sessions and communication skills that I could do things like ace my college interview, go on to land my first job, and ace that as well. Over the years, I have used my speech and debate skills to lead companies and build products.”

Poornima Vijayashanker, engineer and CEO of Femgineer

Debate is Essential to Democracy

“Debating in high school and college is most valuable training whether for politics, the law, business, or for service… The give and take of debating, the testing of ideas, is essential to democracy.”

– President John F. Kennedy

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