How the Debate Team Adapts to 2020


Junior Shreya Nagunuri poses after a debate competition

In one of the most volatile times in history and coming out of possibly the four most divisive years in politics, the debate team is keeping the art of the argument alive and well.

As COVID-19 dismantled the entire educational system, GBHS’s debate team has been adapting and thriving in their new surroundings.

Junior Shreya Nagunuri has been doing debate for 5 years now and is finding success in learning in her new environment.

“Right now, the debate team is practicing through Discord and Zoom,” Nagunuri said. “I don’t think it is difficult to practice when some students are at school and some are at home since we are all sitting on Zoom so everything is pretty much the same if we were all at home.”

For many, this time online has been a blessing in disguise. 

“We have actually gone to a lot of competitions during COVID since now we can attend national tournaments virtually, and we don’t have to pay for travel expenses,” Nagunuri said.

Since the debate team can attend twice as many tournaments, many of the students have seen improvements in their debating skills and feel more flexible as debaters.

“My experience of improving my skills has been catalyzed by the pandemic, contrary to what one may think,” senior and team captain Kavya Krishnan said. “I truly believe this is the year I progressed the most and acquired the most knowledge.”

Furthermore, in a year that has become highly politicized, there seems to be new energy surrounding the art of debating. Whether this energy gets more students interested in starting a discussion through debating or scares away those avoiding conflict in these sensitive times is uncertain.

“I personally am more passionate about issues I am debating since I can now see the impact that it has on society, but I do think that passion makes people more wary about these high school debates because they are tired of the tension and polarization that has somehow become normalized in politics,” Nagunuri said.

Additionally, the format of a debate competition, where a student may not be arguing for their personal beliefs, can lead to a greater sense of perspective and empathy. 

“Many times people end up debating for a side they might not personally believe in,” Krishnan said. “Though this is difficult, it allows debaters to see the reasoning of other viewpoints and can even come to relate with some areas of discussion.”

Things are not all perfect as the debate still faces online challenges.

“Our team has had to adjust during competitions and learn how to communicate with judges and opponents using technology to ensure a smooth round,” Krishnan said. 

In line with the common theme of 2020 is the decrease of human interaction that the pandemic has brought.

“The downside to [the pandemic] is that the human interaction that’s really important for speech and debate is greatly reduced, both in and out of rounds,” junior Suraj Parikh said.

Like anything during this historic moment in our history, it takes time to adapt to the new normal.  

So while the world slowly descends into further chaos, the debate team can find comfort knowing that there will always be something to argue about. In the face of conflict, these debates have flourished and will continue to push the conversation forward, even if just by an inch.

“The current political situation has made our debates a lot more genuine in a lot of ways,” said Parikh. “The increased political awareness that young people have in general allows them to make better and more creative arguments.”