On the three-hour bus ride back from a Hotchkiss debate competition last Sunday, Akhil Rajan ’17 was stunned to receive a text from a friend at the tournament bearing the news that he had won his advanced speaker division, qualifying him for the World Individual Debating and Public Speaking Championships.
The prestigious worldwide debate competition invites around 200 competitors to participate in speech and debate events that include parliamentary debate and impromptu speaking, and will be held in Sydney, Australia, this March. It is the highest level of secondary-school debate in the world.
In an interview with The Phillipian, Rajan said, “In my freshman year, I remember one of the co-presidents of The Philomathean Society (Philo) had qualified for [World Championships] and everyone was super excited. What people say is that [the competition] represents the ideal form of debate where you have this exchange of ideas of people from such diverse backgrounds and origins.”
“This has been a little bit of a debate dream for me; something that I’ve been really trying to work towards,” he continued.
Through the Debating Association of New England Independent Schools (Daneis), up to nine students from 30 schools in New England can qualify for World Championships by winning specific qualification debate competitions. At Hotchkiss, where the final qualifying debate was held, Rajan argued three resolutions with topics including universal health care and the spending of the U.S.’s military allies. In the final round, Rajan had to argue in favor of factory farming, a cause he is personally opposed to.
Hijoo Son, Instructor in History and Social Science and Faculty Advisor to Philo, said, “It is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and tremendously honorable and incredibly proud moment for Andover to have a student represent our school at the World Championships… A competition like [World Championships] would provide an opportunity for Akhil to see how they would fare within a larger pool of students from all around the world. So it would be an exciting opportunity.”
Rajan started attending Philo meetings in the fall term of his Junior year at Andover because of his interest in politics and current affairs, he says. After serving as an Associate, Rajan has held the position of Vice President since his Upper spring. For four years, Rajan has been honing his skills by attending debates every weekend.
“I think it is very important for my development as a person [who aspires] to be involved in government and policy-making at some point,” said Rajan. “The idea of thinking beyond the box that you’ve been born into, that you’ve seen around you, and that you’ve interacted with, I think is vitally important.”
Carra Wu ’17, Co-President of Philo, has been Rajan’s partner in every debate since Junior Fall. The pair also won their division as advanced team in the Hotchkiss tournament. Because Rajan and Wu have worked together for so long, they have learned to play to each other’s strengths and cover for each other’s weaknesses.
“Akhil and I have found ways of balancing each other out,” said Wu. “We’ve run the same arguments for four years, and we know how to debate each of the arguments, so there’s an incredibly fluid exchange of information that often doesn’t even require words.”
Darius Lam ’17, Co-President of Philo, said, “Akhil is incredibly well-versed in foreign and domestic affairs. His grasp of past and current events is really incredible and he is able to recall examples for his arguments very quickly. This is very important for the parliamentary extemporaneous style we participate in, where debaters must create cases in only ten minutes.”
As Vice President, Rajan works with the other board members of Philo to train aspiring debaters and organize upcoming tournaments for the Daneis league.
Shyan Koul ’19 said, “He’s influenced pretty much every [lowerclassmen] in Philo and really made them enjoy debate. He’s made me appreciate it a lot more and just find a lot more fun in it. A lot of people look up to him as not only a really good debater, but someone who can lead… [He’s] just an overall great guy, great debater, and I’m so happy that he got this.”
Rajan is currently looking for ways to financially support himself to attend the World Championships.
“Unfortunately, the school was unable to provide any support for this and any future trips to Worlds, so Philo is trying to find alternate ways to send me and future debaters to the competition. We have set up a GoFundMe page to enable all of our debaters that qualify to partake in this incredible experience,” said Rajan.