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Future leaders to gather at ASU for national speech and debate tournament

ASU Forensics Team

Members of the ASU forensics team. Photo by the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication

December 29, 2017

More than 1600 high school students from around the country will compete in Arizona State University's Hugh Downs School of Human Communication Invitational speech and debate tournament Jan. 5-7 in Tempe, the largest tournament in Arizona.

Representing more than 125 schools in 19 states, the students are members of the National Speech & Debate Association, formerly the National Forensic League.

“Forensics is the art or study of argumentation and formal debate,” said Adam Symonds, director of forensics at ASU. “We also use the term for crime scene investigations, or CSI. Both refer to unearthing evidence upon which to base an argument. Forensics on our team and at our tournament also includes competition in individual public speaking.”

Topics for the debates are decided by the association and have included education in the U.S., economics and business, technology and the environment, and President Donald Trump’s first year. Public speaking competition develops advocacy regarding current events and personal values.

“Debates are a great way for high school students to get involved in class,” said Symonds. “Students have to research topics, prepare for the debate with their team, and think on their feet as they practice public speaking.”

ASU has a rich tradition of success in intercollegiate speech and debate dating back to 1885, when it was known as the Territorial Normal School at Tempe. The school’s forensics team has won hundreds of awards and has consistently finished among the top 20 teams in the nation every year in both speech and debate.

“By participating in tournaments, students figure out how to advocate for something they believe in,” said Symonds. “Through the process of research, they learn what their opponents are saying about a topic and think about counter-arguments. If they don’t support those arguments, they can refine their approach to match their beliefs and values.”

Because speech and debate is cross-disciplinary, Symonds said students who participate get a much a broader education by researching topics outside of their primary fields of study.

“In recent years, our team has included students majoring in electrical engineering, Chinese, biochemistry, politics, criminal justice, social justice and English. They all come together as a team to research one topic,” Symonds said. “This year we’ve focused on health insurance.”

Being a member of the speech and debate team will help graduates stand out to employers, said Linda Lederman, director of the Hugh Downs School and professor.

“Employers want to hire people who can competently express their ideas, work as part of a team, make presentations and advocate for their ideas," said Lederman. "Students who participate in forensics have gone into such diverse careers as acting, politics, government and the law. Communication is a fundamental skill that is essential for any career.”

The bulk of the competition will take place Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 6 and 7. Final rounds will be held on Sunday, Jan. 7, with anywhere from 16 to 30 finalists. A complete schedule of events during the tournament is available here, and for locations of events, click here.

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