Five Hamilton High School students bested an international field Saturday in winning the 13th Annual Bickel & Brewer/New York University International Public Policy Forum debate competition and a $10,000 grand prize.
Coached by Sarah Burgess, the Hamilton team was Dustin Guo, Jessica Li, Gokul Ramadoss, Zoheb Sarwar and Andy Yuwen. The $10,000 grand prize is split up as $5,000 for the school’s debate program and $1,000 each in individual scholarships.
The runner-up team, the Hathaway Brown School from Shaker Heights, Ohio, received a $3,500 prize.
“It was an impressive setting,” Burgess said of the The Harold Pratt House, site of the finals. “To see them, with the impressive list of judges listening to every word, go through and state their stuff with such confidence was equally impressive.”
“I think their strongest debate was in the finals,” Burgess added.
The teams debated the topic: The use of military force is justified as a last resort to minimize nuclear proliferation.
Hamilton debated the negative position in each of the final three rounds.
“It’s a pretty interesting topic and we’ve learned a lot from it,” Sarwar said before the team headed to New York. “But it’s also kind of scary. The U.S. is on the brink of nuclear war with a couple countries.”
The final debate was judged by a panel that included William A. Brewer III, partner at Bickel & Brewer and a founder of the IPPF; New York University President John Sexton; Colleyville Heritage High School Debate Coach David Huston; and Anjan Sahni, the co-chief of the Securities Fraud Unit within the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
“We are proud of these students for their amazing accomplishment,” Brewer said. “They distinguished themselves among a standout field — and are truly deserving of the title IPPF World Champion.”
The eight high schools that competed at the finals represented five U.S. states and three foreign countries — Slovakia, Singapore and Taiwan. They were the final eight teams to emerge from a field that began with hundreds of teams representing more than 1,000 debaters.
“There were those nervous hours preparing for the finals but I felt really good going into the finals,” said Burgess, who is retiring as debate coach after guiding three Hamilton teams to New York in five years.
This year’s competition began in October, as each school submitted a qualifying-round essay on the IPPF topic. The IPPF essay review committee evaluated each essay and the top 64 teams earned cash awards and advanced to a single-elimination, written debate competition.
In the round of 64, schools volleyed papers back and forth via email. Judges reviewed the essays and select the advancing teams. The process whittled teams down to 32, 16 and then eight.
The “Elite 8” teams were announced last month, and each received an all-expenses-paid trip to New York to compete during IPPF finals weekend.
Founded in 2001 by the law firm of Bickel & Brewer, the IPPF is the only contest that gives high school students around the world an opportunity to engage in written and oral debates on issues of public policy. Jointly administered by the Bickel & Brewer Foundation and New York University, the program is available to all public and private high schools for free.
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