Rollins Debate Team Victorious at Novice Nationals

Rollins debaters took home first- and second-place wins in the esteemed Novice Nationals championship.

From left: Whitney Elliott ’21, Sunny Toreihi ’20, and James Payne ’20. Photo courtesy Sunny Toreihi. From left: Whitney Elliott ’21, Sunny Toreihi ’20, and James Payne ’20. Photo courtesy Sunny Toreihi.

In early March, three members of the Rollins Debate Team traveled to Suffolk University in Boston to compete against approximately 40 other colleges in the 2018 Novice Nationals American Parliamentary Debate Tournament and Novice Nationals International Public Debating Tournament. Novice Nationals—considered the pinnacle of the season for young debaters—supports the idea that there should be a space for first- and second-year students to have a competitive national debating experience.

James Payne ’20—a double major in economics and philosophy—took first place in International Public Debating, a one-on-one debate in which the participants had 30 minutes to prepare their arguments. Topics included the imposition of tariffs, the implementation of more gender-representative programs in Hollywood, and lowering the drinking age.

“The most important thing I realized at Novice Nationals was how important a strong foundation in philosophy is for the purpose of debating,” says Payne. “Out of any area of study, philosophy teaches you the most about how to evaluate, understand, and undermine arguments. I couldn’t possibly have won without that foundation.”

Recent victors of the 2018 Great Debate Sunny Toreihi ’20 and Whitney Elliott ’21 won second place in American Parliamentary Debating, which pits teams of two against each other with a prep time of just 15 minutes. The pair debated the resolution “This house believes we are currently more politically polarized than we have been in 30 years.”

Toreihi, a political science major, is still reeling from the Novice Nationals experience and reflected on the perseverance it took to get there. She has spent many years overcoming a lisp that had always made her insecure about public speaking. She was often told she couldn’t speak because no one could understand her, but now—after being on the Rollins Debate Team and taking home second place at Novice Nationals—she knows her voice matters and rings out loud and clear.

“[The Novice Nationals debate] was a culmination moment—all the performances leading up to it combined with the knowledge I’d gained in the classroom throughout the past two years,” says Toreihi. “At this event, my passion met my purpose. I know that public speaking and debate are the most powerful tools I have to express myself and to make an impact.”