A Day in the Life of a Virtual Debater: Raniya’s Story

Raniya Abaweri

Raniya Abaweri, a first year student at Highland Park Senior High School, is finding ways to cope with the pandemic as she studies, debates, and stays at home.

Since March 2020, all of our programs’ debaters have made the transition to online debate. Have you wondered what it’s like to make the adjustment from in-person tournaments – with bus rides, pizza, and packed auditoriums – to debating from home? Learn more about one debater’s experience with this guest post from Raniya Abaweri, a 9th grade student at Highland Park Senior High School:

Meet Raniya


My name is Raniya Abaweri. I started debate in 8th grade at Capitol Hill Magnet School towards the end of the year. We had an option in school where debate can replace our English class. I really liked debate in middle school. I love the feeling of speaking, asking Cross-X questions, and winning debates. It’s an adrenaline rush. 


I found out when the season started, a few weeks into attending Highland Park, that this season was going to be virtual. I wasn’t mad or anything. I haven’t had the experience of going to meets in person, so I guess I don’t know what I’m missing! 


My partner’s name is Evelyn. We’ve debated together every single time, except when she was sick. I never knew Evelyn before debate. Now we’ve gotten close because of debate, and I’m really grateful for that.


What’s Virtual Debate Like? 


Practices are pretty normal, even though they happen online. My coach, Ella, goes over the structure of debate, and what we have to do for each speech. We’re heading for our last few practices of the season. Last practice, we had to choose a fruit and debate what’s the best fruit. (I think pomegranate’s the best. I made the argument that it’s rare. And you have to peel it to get the individual seeds, so you get more reward for it!) 


I have to applaud my coach, because she’s working to make it as normal as it can get. 


The virtual meets, at first, were really difficult. I was like, “Why are they using all these apps?” I’d never heard of Jitsi. It took some getting used to. At the end, I found out I really liked it. No one could see me panicking or freaking out. I could wear pajama pants and a nice shirt, and nobody would know. I actually ended up liking it. If I was in front of the judges in-person, maybe my confidence wouldn’t have been as high as it is online.


For tournaments, we have a meeting with my partner and the coach to go over our speeches and ask questions. Then we join, and we’re off. During the tournaments, me and Evelyn communicate through email and go back and forth. That’s been working. We tell each other, “We got this! It’s gonna go so well!” and then we try our best. 


How Has the Pandemic Changed Your Life? 


I get to sleep in because school starts at 10. I’m not sleep deprived anymore. When I reflect and say, wow, we’re actually in a global pandemic – my mindset shifts. Other than that, I’m really fortunate to be in a home where we have food and my parents can work from home. 


During quarantine, I started playing the ukulele! So far, I only know You Are My Sunshine and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. My friend gave me her old one last year, and I never picked it up – now, I said, “I have nothing better to do, so I’ll try it.” 


What Have You Achieved This Season?


I won the top speaker award in the rookie division 5 times this season. But I like the debating aspect – whether I happen to win doesn’t matter that much to me.


My brothers and sisters are all very athletic. I’ve never been into sports or anything. Public speaking and debate is the first time I’ve felt like I’m good at something. I’ve always been average in academics, and I can’t catch a ball to save my life. Debate made me think, “I’m actually really good at something.” for once. There are so many people who are strong debaters, but I can go there and wing it with a lot of confidence.


My partner and I have moved up to the novice division. We lost ⅔ of our rounds in novice. It was a bit of a shock to my ego. At the same time, I knew I needed to lose. I was like, “This is challenging, finally. I’m in the right place and can work toward getting better.” 


And I’ve learned so much. I loved the topic this year. In rookie, it’s mostly about the reforms. It was really difficult for me to debate the negative. It goes against everything I believe in. That really helped me step out of my comfort zone. It helped me see both sides of the story. Now I can debate both affirmative and negative well. That’s one of the best parts about debate – learning from both sides in general.

Raniya got her start in middle school debate. Next semester, we will provide virtual debate programming to hundreds of Twin Cities middle school students. Can you help us make it happen with a final 2020 gift? bit.ly/GiveDebate