Four Rowland Hall debaters won coveted National Speech & Debate Association (NSDA) Academic All-American awards—a new school record and the highest number of winners from any Utah school this year.
The award recognizes academic rigor, competitive speech and debate success, and personal excellence, according to the NSDA, and fewer than 1,000 of the association's 141,000 student members earn the distinction each year. That places our four winners—senior Ben McGraw and juniors Ben Amiel, Steven Doctorman, and Adrian Gushin—among the top one-percent of all student members across the country.
"Rowland Hall has a long history of debate and academic excellence and these awards mean a lot to our program," debate coach Mike Shackelford said. "It shows that debate isn't just about competitive excellence at tournaments, it's about using debate to complement and reinforce intellectual growth in the classroom as well."
The Academic All-American award recognizes high schoolers who have earned the degree of Superior Distinction (750 points) in the NSDA Honor Society; completed at least five semesters of high school; demonstrated outstanding character and leadership; and earned a GPA of at least 3.7. Students accumulate points for service and competition: they earn a point for every hour of service, two points for every debate round lost, and six points for every debate round won.
Adrian, Steven, Ben Amiel and Ben McGraw have all competed in over 150 debate rounds, their coach said. "These are the team's top students; they've won local tournaments, earned individual speaker awards, and even placed nationally," Mike said.
They also demonstrate outstanding character and leadership on a daily basis, the coach added. "Ben McGraw is a senior who transferred here for debate at the start of his junior year and so the team views him as a natural leader who puts debate first. Adrian is on our 'top team' and leads by example in his drive and motivation. Ben Amiel is one of our 'affirmative' captains and does more research than anyone. Steven takes pride in working with younger team members and even volunteers to judge and mentor our Middle School debaters."
Ben McGraw said he transferred to Rowland Hall almost exclusively for debate, knowing that the team is second to none in Utah. "It was a great relief to know that my investment in debate paid off," the senior said. "For me, the award signified, along with my recent qualification to the Tournament of Champions, the completion of a goal I have been striving for since my first day of high school."
The winners praised debate for enhancing their research, public-speaking, and critical-thinking skills, and some highlighted a lesser-known benefit—the camaraderie. "The debate community is made up of wonderful people from all different backgrounds, and seeing (and sometimes debating) friends from other states at tournaments is always great," Ben Amiel said.
At least one Rowland Hall student has earned the Academic All-American award in each of the past 10 years, Mike said—seniors Cas Mulford, Sydney Young, and Robin Zeng won the award last year.
Pictured at top: from left, debaters Andres Torres, Steven Doctorman, Ben McGraw, and Ben Amiel—three of the four NSDA Academic All-American award winners.