Austin debate convention encourages public speaking, exposes students to politics


Nicole Bates

Freshman Dian Yu (fifth from right) poses with other Best Speaker award winners at the Fall State debate convention.

Sara Doyle and Afraaz Malick

On a Friday night at The Sheraton in Austin, Junior State of America Chapter President and Director of Debate Pranav Konduri worked until 3 a.m. to ensure that all of the coming debates would run smoothly.

On Nov. 17, five St. John’s students joined over 500 Texas high school students as they flooded into the Texas State Capitol building in Austin for the JSA Fall State convention, where they participated in numerous debates and political discussions concerning current issues.

Junior State of America is a non-profit organization aimed at exposing high school students to politics and advocating bipartisanship. Run entirely by students, JSA conventions occur twice a year: Fall State and Spring State.

“JSA is the only organization out there that actually provides an entertaining way to educate young people about politics,” Konduri, a junior, said. “It does it in a non-polarizing way, and you are encouraged to look at every side, which is really cool.”

Freshman Dian Yu found the location of the debates particularly remarkable. Eight blocks of debates took place in Senate hearing rooms, where students were encouraged to engage in friendly debates and thought talks with topics such as “The Second Amendment should be repealed” and “Has the #MeToo movement given false rape accusations power to ruin someone’s life?”

The most impressive part of the convention was that we could all debate and be in the antique chambers of the Texas Legislature in the Texas State Capitol,” Yu said. “It is such a great and rare opportunity that most people don’t really have in their lives.”

The traditional debate format includes two main speakers and multiple subsequent speakers. The two main speakers, one affirmative and one negative, have pre-written speeches and the subsequent speakers come up with arguments to support their respective side. While traditional debates are very structured, thought talks are less formal and encourage students to share their opinions and viewpoints on a certain topic.

Yu, who won a Best Speaker award, is grateful that she was able to participate in Fall State and plans to return next year.

“This was definitely one of the best experiences of my life,” Yu said. “I had so much fun, and I was able to learn how to improve my speaking skills from many other talented debaters across Texas.”

At the convention, students heard from keynote speaker Jimmy Blacklock, the Associate Justice of the Texas Supreme Court. Blacklock explained how he became involved in politics and his fascination with the government growing up. He also commended the students’ participation in JSA, telling them that they are going to be the “future leaders of America.”

In addition to the different debates and thought talks, students participated in nighttime activities such as sack races, egg and spoon races, talent shows and a glow-in-the-dark dance. Many students, such as junior Alexa Addison, enjoyed participating in these events, which contrasted with the more serious conversations that took place.

“It was really nice knowing that while we all can be completely serious and genuinely care about the future of the country, we can also have fun and bond with each other despite political or other differences,” Addison said.