Meghan Henderson ’15 of West Hartford and her debate partner, James Ward ’15 of Simsbury, qualified for Nationals in parliamentary debate last weekend at the University of Pennsylvania Liberty Bell Classic Tournament.
In parliamentary debate, or “parli”, participants are given a resolution and have fifteen minutes to prepare an eight-minute speech.
“My partner and I took fourth and that qualified us,” Henderson said, “We also did well at the Yale at the beginning of this year so those two points combined qualified us to be able to go to California.”
But Meghan and James aren’t the only ones going to Nationals. Spencer Pelham ’15 of Farmington of Watkinson will also take the trip to the tournament in California after winning with his partner at the Yale competition earlier this year.
“I’m excited for California,” Spencer said, “One of the things I’m looking for in college during my application process is schools that fly debaters across the world…I really like to have fun weekends where we go and debate.”
Meghan, James and Spencer are all members of the Watkinson/Westfield Academy of Debate and Public Speaking, a debate school that Henderson’s mother, Ann Henderson, started up.
“It started when I was nine or ten,” Meghan said, “I was homeschooled until I came to Watkinson and my mom taught debate classes for my friends and me. Then she realized more and more people were coming, so she made it into a school and now she has about ninety students.”
“We’ve had incredible success for our size school,” Ann Henderson said, “We’re a little player and we’re just doing very well and a lot of them have been Watkinson kids so it’s great.”
According to Ann, Meghan and James have never lost a round before breakout so far this year. In debate, if you “break”, you move on to advanced rounds.
“Every single round that they have done before advanced, which is a lot of rounds, they are undefeated which is really incredible,” Ann said, “I don’t think I’ve ever had that before.”
In addition to Nationals, Meghan also qualified for the Connecticut State Finals in March. Meghan and her partner, a homeschooled student, were the top-ranked team at the CT Debate Association debate competition on Saturday, February 7th, prompting Meghan to be qualified for the finals in CDA style.
According to Ann, these three Watkinson students are the only Connecticut qualifiers for Nationals so far.
“Because we have so few opportunities to go, and because we won Yale and UPenn, I don’t know if anybody else would go,” Ann said. For Ann, that is something to be extremely proud of; “I’m very passionate about it,” Ann said, “I feel immensely grateful to have this opportunity to work with kids in an area that I think is critical, which is self expression and respect.”
But Ann is not the only one who feels passionate about debate. The students do, too. Her daughter, Meghan, says that debate is something she has enjoyed because of what it gives back.
“It’s really fun to be able to meet and talk to people who know about these issues,” Meghan said, “You think through the issues in different ways, because you have to support it and go against it, so you can’t be narrow-minded. It challenges my viewpoints and makes me think about what I actually believe.
“I had an assignment the other day in English where I had to talk for three minutes about anything,” Spencer said, “I’m sure I would’ve been a little nervous about it before I started debate, but debate practice makes it so easy to talk off the cuff.”
“I am a very fortunate woman,” Ann said, “I have witnessed incredible transformations…it really makes a difference in these kids’ lives. I see it. You watch them become really articulate, really confident, and it’s huge. I can’t even explain how huge it is.”
Watkinson School is Hartford’s oldest independent day school serving students in grades 6-12/PG. Their next open house is April 15, from 9-11 a.m.