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Hofstra's new champions: The speech and debate team

By Amanda Valentovic Staff Writer

Hofstra’s speech and debate team is taking the world by storm after placing third and fifth in their first two tournaments last weekend. The recently relaunched team took home nine awards, both individually and as a team in different categories, like parliamentary debate and oral interpretation. They are hoping to continue their success throughout the rest of the year.

After being inactive since 2008, the speech and debate team made a comeback this year after students expressed interest in its return. “It had a long history when it was around, and they wanted to reinvigorate it,” said debate coach and Director of Forensics Tomeka Robinson. The School of Communication and the rhetoric department worked together to restart the program. “I’ve been quite happy with the response we received.”

Any student can become involved with the team, regardless of major or experience level. There are a variety of events that they can choose to become involved with. Parliamentary debate argues sides of different topics that are typically in the news and competitors get 15 minutes to prepare. Prepared oratory speeches are rehearsed before the event, and the topic is known before. In acting events, the student reads prose or poetry in a dramatic interpretation. “I’ve always been a public speaker, and I wanted to use my theater experience,” said Victor Parbat, junior accounting major. All of the events can be either done individually or in teams of two.

“I wanted to have an outlet for speaking,” said Daniel Kounin, a senior rhetoric and classical civilization major on the team. After finding out the team was no longer competing, Kounin began talking to professors about bringing it back. “I wanted to cultivate a better understanding of persuasion.” Kounin’s partner in the parliamentary debate event, Garrett Shum, believes it gives people a different perspective on what they’re arguing. “It really teaches people to view things from different angles than they normally would,” said the freshman linguistics major who participated in debate competitions in high school and wanted to continue. “You have to write both sides of the case because you don’t know what you’re going to be debating until you’re in the round, and it lets you withhold your opinion while you’re talking.”

While competing is an exciting part of what the speech and debate team does, trophies are not the only thing on the minds of the members. “We focus on scholars and opportunities like service events throughout the year,” Robinson said. The team hopes to work with middle school and high school students in the area on their debate and speaking skills. For anyone hunting for a job in the future, the speech team is also a great way to work on interview skills. “You’re learning how to critically think, you’re meeting people and you’re getting judged. You’re getting lots of feedback,” said Robinson.

Forming relationships is also a part of being on the speech and debate that students who join can look forward to. “It’s nice to be surrounded by similarly minded people,” said Shum. Kounin agreed and said, “It’s fun to be around these people, and not just from Hofstra, from other schools.” Members on the team can watch people from others schools and try to make themselves better while still making new friends in the process.

“It’s a great way to make new friends and learn about what’s going on in the world,” said team member Rory Doehring. The junior history major decided to continue working on her speech skills after participating in last year’s Cambridge Union Society debate and enjoying the experience.

Learning how to give speeches and argue effectively can also help students later in life, no matter what field they end up working in. “I want to be a trial attorney,” Kounin said. “I want to do this for a living and work with my words. Doing it on paper and doing it in the moment are two different things.” Shum wants to pursue teaching after his time competing in college, and he said, “I would not hate being a debate coach.”

While giving a speech and debating different topics is not typically more than a two person job, new people are always welcome to give it a try. “Everyone should join,” said Shum. “We’re always going to need new members. I always like seeing new people learn to like it.” The team has high hopes for the rest of this year and for the future. “I’m shooting for a national championship,” said Kounin. “There isn’t a doubt in my mind that we could be the best.”

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