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French and Peale Represent U.S. at International Debate Competition

While most students readjusted the routine of classes last week, John French ’13 and Farris Peale ’14 instead traveled to Durban, South Africa to compete with the world’s top high school debaters for an international title at the 2013 World Individual Debating and Public Speaking Championship (WIDPSC) where French placed 18th and Peale placed 32nd. French, Director of Training for the Philomathean Society (Philo), and Peale, an associate of Philo, each competed in four events: parliamentary debate, impromptu speaking, interpretative reading of prose or a play and either persuasive speaking or “after-dinner” speaking, which involves using humor to make an argument. The world champion was determined through the cumulative scores in each event. Formulating speeches on “baby steps,” “don’t cry over spilled milk” and “keep your eye on the ball” with only two minutes to prepare, French placed into the third and final round of impromptu speaking. He was also two points away from making the finals for interpretive reading. Peale’s speech about geographic education earned her a spot on the final round for persuasive speaking. Although neither French nor Peale qualified as finalists in parliamentary debate, which is Philo’s primary form, Peale did place in the top 15 debaters overall, only one-sixth of a point away from finals. Only the top 12 contestants competed in the final round of parliamentary debate. “I was one-sixth of a point away from making it to the finals for debate… I was just so close, but I’m trying not to be that disappointed about it [because] maybe next year I’ll be able to make it,” said Peale. French and Peale travelled as part of the 15-member United States national team. They competed against students from Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, the United States, England, South Africa, Lithuania, Pakistan, Cyprus, Argentina, Botswana, Israel, India, South Korea, Zimbabwe and Germany, according to the WIDPSC website. Both French and Peale said that their favorite part about the competition was the opportunity to talk to and mingle with kids from all over the world. Each participant competed in two of four rounds of parliamentary debate as a pair with another individual from a different country, said Peale. “I really enjoyed debating and meeting all these kids from different countries, and especially because all of us shared the same interest. I think we bonded more quickly,” said Peale. French debated about government aid for healthcare, while Peale debated the subject of negotiation with terrorists. Both students also debated about a strong dictatorship versus a weak democracy. Despite the opportunity to collaborate with students from other countries, French experienced some difficulties in style and formality discrepancies among the international judges that caused him point deductions. French had points marked down by one of the judges when he declined to answer his opponent’s point of information. However, the judges did not mark down the opponent for declining all four of French’s points of information. “What is considered to be rude and unacceptable is different, it seemed like, depending on where you are from,” French said. “One of the judges marked me down as rude for ignoring a girl’s point of information. Apparently in some countries it is okay for girls to say no to guys but not the other way around,” continued French. “I didn’t really know what to expect going into the competition, and although I do wish I made the final round for debate and interpretive reading, I really can’t complain because I had a great time,” said French. Despite the lack of a formal coach in Philo, which is completely student-run, Peale said she believes both she and French did very well. “It was a really solid competition, especially because most of the teams there had qualified somehow to get to Worlds. There were some really skilled debaters from all parts of the world, and in all it was just a fun experience,” said Peale. French qualified to participate in WIDPSC by placing first in the Roxbury Latin Invitational Tournament in September. Peale qualified by cinching first place in the Stoneleigh-Burnham School Public Speaking Competition, according to previous articles in The Phillipian. The participants of WIDPSC were given time to explore and enjoy South Africa after three days of intense competition that began on March 30. “[South Africa] was warm, which was really nice, especially coming from Andover. We were also right on the coast, so we went to the beach and the waterpark to hang out. It was really nice to just relax and chill after the competition in such a beautiful country,” French said. They also visited Mahatma Gandhi’s former Durban residence and the place where Nelson Mandela cast his first democratic vote, according to Peale. Next year’s WIDPSC will be held in Druskininkai, Lithuania, according to the WIDPSC website.