A Delightful Debate

by Rich Cassidy on February 23, 2012

Most of us have more than one role, and for lawyers, when those roles come together it can sometimes prove uncomfortable.

Last week was, for me, the opposite. Two of my roles came together in a way that proved delightful.

From time to time, I have been invited to serve as a judge in high school debate tournaments. I suppose that’s because I am a lawyer who was involved in debate when I was in high school.

The Vermont Debate and Forensics League, the Vermont Bar Association, the Vermont Principal’s Association, and the Vermont Education Association/National Education Association, sponsored The Vermont Public Forum Debate State Tournament on February 13 at the Vermont State House.

This year, I was asked to join State Senator Diane Snelling, and the former Chair of the University of Vermont Board of Trustees, Bruce Lisman, (also former high school debaters), to judge the state finals.

Some 70 student from 11 high schools competed.

Since one of my other roles is as Chair of the South Burlington School Board, I was forewarned that as our high school teams had done well in the past, I might be called upon judge a final involving a team from our school. I thought for a second, and feeling certain that I could fair, said I was glad to do it.

So, I drove to Montpelier, and was briefed on the scoring methods before being shown into our shown into the well of our House of Representatives, where the Championship round would be held. On our way into the chamber, a teacher friend from another school district stopped me. She had just completed calculating the scoring from the semi-final rounds. She said, “You don’t know who the finalists are, do you.” “No,” I replied. “You will like it,” she told me.

And she was right. Both teams in the finals were from South Burlington High School!

The round was fast and furious. The subject –”The benefits of post-9/11 security outweigh the harms to personal freedom”– presented fertile ground for the contest.

Both teams knew the subject, marshaled their evidence, and argued vigorously, but fairly. Many a practicing lawyer could have learned a thing or two from their performances.
In the end, it was a split decision with two judges voting for one team and one the other. And I know it was a close one, because on my score card the teams were both in the outstanding range, and were separated by only one point.

The winning team was South Burlington – WB, consisting of Kevin Wang and Lihu Behr. The runner up was South Burlington Team — NP, consisting of Avni Nahar and Riya Patel. Individual speaker awards also went to Kevin Wang (2nd place) Riya Patel, (5th place) and Lihu Behr (6th place).

Of course the high quality of their performances reflected good underlying education, their hard work, and effective coaching. Kudos are due their debate coach, South Burlington High School faculty member Veronica White, and to all their teachers.

My thanks go to Kevin Ryan from the Vermont Bar Association, who directs the tournament and to John O’Brien and Bill Haynes, who assist Kevin. They gave the students a great experience. And one side effect was that I got to enjoy the show and take pride in the work of South Burlington students and teachers.

I expect that these young people are capable enough to do anything they choose. But I will bet that there is more than on budding lawyer in the group.

Rich

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