Monday, April 2, 2012

Honoring the teams that put UAA Debate 'on the map'

Steve Johnson
Post-debate reception remarks by Steve Johnson, Fireside Cafe:

In a time when some deride the pursuit of higher education as snobbery, I’m proud to be a snob.  I’m proud to work with students who are thrilled by the uncertainty of not knowing the right answer, but invigorated by its pursuit.  I’m proud of a university that sees the value of teaching students the skills of informed and participatory citizenry and I’m proud of our community that supports events like this where we can gather to discuss our collective future, and perhaps to imagine a better one.

I’m also proud tonight to dedicate a new trophy to honor those Seawolf Debaters who have put this program on the map.

The timing of this dedication couldn’t be better.  10 years ago this past weekend I was in China adopting my first daughter.  That was a significant trip for me, not only as an obvious personal milestone, but also because it was the first time, since I started debating, I had ever missed the national debating tournament.  We had a team that year that was very much like the team we’ve had here over the last few years—a group of hard-working and dedicated individuals that drove one another to be better than any one of them individually could have been. 

And I remember obsessively checking my email at the Holiday Inn in Hefei, Anhui province to get updates about the competition.  I watched from afar as our top team progressed through each single-elimination round, until they arrived at Semifinals and the emails stopped.  I waited and sent repeated (and increasingly demanding) requests for updates, but heard nothing.

Finally, after a few hours of radio silence, I received a two-word email: 'we won.'  It wasn’t until about an hour later when I was able to reach them by phone that I learned that they won not only the semifinal but the final round.  Ben Garcia and Chris Richter had brought home a national championship, something for which the entire team had worked and in which they all shared.

Though competition honors select individuals, it’s important to remember that those individuals achieved what they did because of the work of many others.  So tonight, I’d like to dedicate this trophy, which honors the UAA students who have qualified for the elimination rounds of the World Universities Debating Championships, to all the individuals—our current team members, our alumni, our donors and the greater UAA community—who have supported our efforts, sponsored our competition and cheered our successes.

The plaque on the trophy reads: 
The World Universities Debating Championship is the pinnacle of competition in international intercollegiate debating.  The best teams from the top universities around the world meet once a year to engage in a contest of discourse on the most pressing issues of the day.

These students from the University of Alaska Anchorage have distinguished themselves by advancing to the elimination rounds at the World Championships.  They have returned home with victory and honor.
I’d like to ask the students honored on this trophy to join me up here.  They’re not all here, but many of them are:
  • Tom Lassen and Chris Kolerok, Semifinalists at the 2007 Worlds in Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Amie Stanley and Akis Gialopsos, Octofinalists at the 2011 Worlds in Botswana
  • Brett Frazer and Amy Parrent, Octofinalists at the 2011 Worlds in Botswana
  • And Brett Frazer and Colin Haugher, Octofinalists at the 2012 Worlds in Manila.
Congratulations to them and to all the members—current and past—of the Seawolf Debate program.

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