Jefferson debate teams triumph at the 43rd Annual Harvard National Forensics Tournament


Students from the debate team prepare for their upcoming tournament. Photo courtesy of Ankit Agrawal.

Grace Mak, Staff Writer

Students sat together in a circle, frantically typing on their laptops and flipping through case studies in preparation for their upcoming debates. Some of the Jefferson Policy and Lincoln-Douglas debate teams were given the opportunity to compete in the 43rd Annual Harvard National Forensics Tournament with others from all across the country. The tournament took place during the weekend of Feb. 18-20, where many of the students had a successful experience.

“I know policy had a team win in Junior Varsity, which is fantastic, and Lincoln-Douglas had 2 debaters in Varsity elimination rounds and another in JV, so it was a good showing,” senior Shivam Kollur, who was a triple octafinalist and the 19th overall speaker at the event, said. Especially given that Harvard is one of the biggest tournaments in the country, so it was kind of a benchmark to see how far we had come since two years ago when we didn’t have anybody in elimination rounds.”

Two other Jefferson students who had a fruitful time at the Harvard tournament were sophomores Aaraj Vij and SJ Kachru, who won the finals round for Junior Varsity at the Harvard tournament.

“I’m really happy with how SJ and I did — after a year of some pretty big L’s it was a good way to end the travel season,” Vij said. “Ultimately we did some pretty ballsy stuff in that round to maximize ‘strategery’ like contradicting ourselves intentionally, and the strategery came through in the end.”

For many students who participated, Harvard was a new ordeal, different from debates they experienced in the past, as it was a national tournament where they competed with talented individuals from all across the country.

“One thing that definitely stuck with me [from the tournament] was the diversity in speaking style and the need to adapt to different styles,” sophomore Priyanka Mehta said. “Going to regional tournaments, I would only debate against people from this area, but as I got to national circuit level, I saw people from all over. My last opponent was from Arizona and had a completely different style of debating that I wasn’t used to, which made debating a more challenging but good learning experience overall.”

This opportunity to compete at the national level also gave students new insight in what areas they could improve on and what tactics worked better than others.

“Personally, I just want to learn more styles of debate, because as I learned at Harvard, there’s a whole sea of ideas that just hasn’t been breached that would be beneficial to learn just because of their utility in tournaments and even practical applications,” Mehta said.

For some, such as senior Shivam Kollur, this tournament was a bittersweet ending to the competitive debate season.

“Harvard was my last tournament… [and] also my first national tournament, so it was kind of cool to close out my career where it really started,” Kollur said. “But I’m also going to miss everything about competing for TJ and alongside the rest of our team. All of us are so close-knit, so I’m also going to miss being a part of the team, but all good things must come to an end, so I’m just excited to see how far they can go next year.”

The debate team also plans to keep improving and expanding so that they can be even stronger in future tournaments.

“For Jefferson, I feel like this team is really, really close to breaking through to where it wants to be, and I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know the juniors and sophomores that are going to inherit the team when we leave. I think that as long as the officer core can keep building and improving the foundation that we have right now, every tournament can have more people in elimination rounds going farther than we have before,” Kollur said. “At this point it’s just about doing what we do better and keeping our foot on the gas.”