Speech and Debate Wins the Day

Update: Did you know that Deerfield had three students participate in the Individual World Debating and Speaking Championships in South Africa this spring? Thomas ’23, Justin ’24, and Lily ’25 all qualified for the world championships and then placed in the top 10% as finalists! Thomas went on to become Impromptu Speaking World Champion, and Lily earned third overall in Interpretive Reading! The following interview with Lily and Thomas was recorded before they went to the world championships.

Interview with Lily ’25 and Thomas ’23:

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned?

Lily: “Not every speech is going to be your best. Sometimes, you must accept failure and move forward instead of letting it bruise your ego.”

Thomas: “Always be ready to learn. There’s always a lesson you can take away from listening to your peers and those competing against you. Learn by doing, learn by listening, and you are never done improving, especially as a speaker.”


What is the secret to your success?

Lily: “I’ve taken the time to reflect on and learn from the many mistakes I have made in my year or so on the team. I’ve learned to lean on my peers and ask for support when I need it. I am so grateful to compete on such a driven, talented team and have access to the resources and training Deerfield offers its students.”

Thomas: “I came in on the ground floor last year, knowing absolutely nothing about competitive speech and debate, but was fully ready to learn. With the help of my coach and my more experienced peers, I was able to learn by competing in novice tournaments first while paying attention to the strategies of our league’s top debaters every step of the way.”


What’s the most fun you’ve had debating?

Lily: “The most fun I’ve had debating would be competing in the International Independent Schools Public Speaking Competition that Deerfield hosted this October. It was my second time ever competing in person. Though it was a really stressful couple of days, I was surrounded by the support and encouragement of my peers and advisors. Something I particularly enjoyed about that competition was competing in the Dramatic Interpretation category. For the Dramatic Interpretation category, you must select and memorize a 5-12 minute piece of literary merit and perform a dramatic interpretation of it for a panel of judges. This event was an opportunity for me to draw on my background as an actor, so I took advantage of my theatrical knowledge and worked very hard on my piece. I ended up placing second in the category internationally.”

Thomas: “The most fun you can have in a debate is when there is a topic that speaks to you personally. As a tech-lover and STEM nerd, one of the topics I debated was how social media affects teen lives. My partner and I drew parallels to a made-up teen we called Billy, and kept talking about Billy’s habits as he went about his teen years. We never thought something like that would work, but we won (somehow).”


Advice to students who think they’d like to join?

Lily: “You have absolutely nothing to lose when joining Speech and Debate. While putting yourself out there in a competitive environment can be a frightening experience, it is also an extremely rewarding and liberating one in the long run. I have forged wonderful friendships and earned very exciting opportunities through Deerfield Speech and Debate, and would encourage anyone interested in joining. . . again, you have absolutely nothing to lose!”

Thomas: “Just show up! It doesn’t matter if you’ve never done anything like this—I had never done speech or debate until my junior year (my first debate was less than a year ago), and my experience is a testament to our team’s ability to show you the ropes and help you to succeed. As one of the most robust club programs on campus, we have an incredible team of members who will help you every step of the way. You won’t compete until you decide to, and when you feel ready, our coaches will be there for you every step of the way. We also get Chipotle or Shake Shack on the weekends after tournaments, so what’s not to love?”


How has speech and debate helped you grow as a person?

Lily: When it was announced that I was one of five students in the United States to qualify for the World Championships at the International Independent Schools Public Speaking Competition Awards Banquet, I was shocked! It had never really registered in my mind that I was actually capable of qualifying for Worlds as a Sophomore who was relatively new to Speech and Debate. I’ve learned that there is no point in limiting myself, and it has helped me realize that aiming high and working hard will help me accomplish my goals.