Sophomores Michelle Vered and Rohit Rajan became one of the youngest pairs from ASU’s Forensics Program to ever advance to the National Debate Tournament with their win at Pepperdine University on Sunday.
Vered, an economics and political science major, and Rajan, a biochemistry student, will be among the 78 teams competing in the four-day tournament at Weber State University. They have a month to prepare.
“We have tournaments throughout the year, but it’s really leading up to the district tournament, which just happened this weekend,” Vered said.
Only eight of the 20 teams from Arizona, California and Nevada participating in the district tournament qualified for the national tournament.
Rajan and Vered have been debating together throughout the school year and qualified with a 6-2 record. Every round is two or three hours long.
“Throughout the year, we had been doing OK, but not as great as I had hoped, and finally at the district tournament … we actually did really well, and our hard work paid off,” Vered said. “I thought, now maybe I can go to sleep for a while.”
Both of them started debating as freshmen in high school. Rajan’s older brother had been a member of the debate team, so his parents suggested he try it, too.
“I debated for Chandler High School,” he said. “When I got to ASU, I didn’t know whether I wanted to debate or not. I went to a meeting, and it seemed (like) something I wanted to continue with.”
Rajan began in the novice division of the forensics team, and by the end of the year, he had advanced to varsity. There are three divisions: novice, junior varsity and varsity.
Vered, who grew up in Oregon, decided to attend ASU, because she wanted to participate in the debate team.
“The first time I saw the campus was when I traveled here to compete at a tournament when I was in high school,” she said. “I came to ASU knowing I was going to debate … but Rohit came onto the team at the beginning of the year, and then he ended up being one of the hardest-working debaters on the team. He started as novice and worked his way up.”
The members of the team spend 20 to 30 hours a week researching topics and completing assignments. They practice twice a week for three hours.
By June, the topic for the entire year is decided. This year, the topic is energy policy in the U.S., and each team chooses to focus on a particular area of that topic.
“When we have tournaments we usually leave Thursday night or Friday morning (and) we’re there all the way until Monday night,” Vered said. “We’re competing most of that time, and when we’re not competing, we’re sitting in our hotel room preparing for our debates.”
Rajan said he feels nervous a couple of days before each tournament, but the adrenaline and the desire to win overpower those nerves during the tournaments.
Vered, who also qualified for the national tournament last year, is the third ASU student to qualify twice for the tournament, the second to qualify in consecutive years and the first to qualify as a freshman.
“I’m hoping I can qualify four times,” she said. “That would be a first for ASU.”
Rajan and Vered, along with the rest of the team, are working on new assignments and new arguments to prepare for the tournament.
“It’s a team effort,” Vered said. “We’re going to be working with other people on our team. … Everybody works on something. It’s impossible for two people to be prepared for all the possible arguments from the other teams.”
During the rounds, a specific resolution is argued for by one team and against by the other team. The rest of the debate is composed of the teams’ responses to one another.
The team has a total of 10 minutes during the whole round to prepare arguments. A judge listening in the back of the room evaluates the round and decides who won the debate. The teams alternate between arguing for or against the resolutions during the different rounds, which means they have to be ready for both cases.
“Each of us gets to speak twice,” Vered said. “We also have cross-examination periods where you can ask the other side questions. You try to figure out the weak spots in their arguments.”
Communication between partners is the key to winning a round, Rajan said.
“If you’re on the same page about which arguments are presented in the round, you have a good team,” he said. “If there’s a disconnect, you can’t really debate together.”
Adam Symonds, director of forensics at ASU, has been the head coach of the team since 2007. Rajan and Vared said they really enjoy working with him.
Symonds said he is very happy with the results from the district tournament.
“Michelle and Rohit are two of the hardest workers that I have ever encountered, and I have been working with debaters since … 1991,” he said. “These two are just relentless in the amount of research and preparation that they do.”
Symonds forms the two-person teams, and he said the reason he partnered Vered and Rojan is because they were two of the hardest workers on the team.
“This is a huge deal, (and) I’m very proud of them,” he said. “It’s not easy for two sophomores to do this.”
Rajan and Vered said they use skills they have learned from debating in other areas of their life. The duo want to keep debating throughout their college careers and hope to judge after they graduate.
“Debate is really useful when you’re trying to formulate an argument for a paper or an essay,” Rajan said. “I find myself using some of the things I’ve learned from debating (and) some of the topics even.”
Vered said being part of the debate team is fun because you get to meet new people who share the same passion.
“It’s kind of a hard thing to give up,” she said. “We’ve been doing it for so long.”
Rajan, who has helped coach the debate team in Chandler High School, said he really enjoys working with the future generation of debaters.
Rajan, Vered and the rest of the forensics team will get to judge a high school state championship in March at ASU.
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