The world of debate for Heritage students expands past the walls of Mr. Hubbard’s room. For junior Luca Zislin, however, the debate stage has taken on a national level. This past April, Zislin applied to the USA Debate Team through the National Speech & Debate Association, sending in her credentials and a video reading an original speech she wrote, regarding the government’s involvement in the environment and the economy. Throughout the summer, she participated in the semi-finalist wave and finalist wave, and received the news in Aug. that she made the final team.
When given the choice by her mother between chess and debate in elementary school, Zislin ultimately chose debate, embarking upon her first debate class in fifth grade. In sixth grade, while attending University School, she met her first mentor, Itiel Wainer, a sophomore. whom she describes as “the best mentor [she] could ever ask for.” Wainer drove and picked her up from practice, took her to tournaments and paid for her registration. For her, this made the experience as comfortable and easy as possible.
Zislin’s father has coached her since the beginning of her debate career. Because he hails from Israel, she feels that he has influenced her style of argumentation, which she self-described as, “not American nor fitting of any political ideology.”
When Zislin entered middle school at University School, a middle school debate league did not exist. However, she insisted on competing in the high school league anyway.
“I would walk into the room at 12-years-old with an oversized suit, surrounded by a bunch of older kids,” she said, laughing.
Upon her entering seventh grade, the debate circuit began creating middle school oriented tournaments. Because Zislin had already competed at a high school level, she won almost every middle school tournament she competed in. She considers the one instance in which she earned third place a “breaking point.” That year, she won fifth place at the national middle school debate tournament and developed an intent to win first place the next year.
In order to qualify for the Tournament of Champions, a renowned national debate tournament, one must receive two bids throughout the debate season. One receives a bid upon reaching a certain high level at a tournament. In eighth grade, Zislin earned her bids and competed in the tournament, a feat typically reserved for high school juniors and seniors. Currently, Zislin boasts 20 career bids, the most in the country. As of last year, her ranking climbed as high as fourth place in the nation, and remained in the top ten spots throughout.
Only one style of international debate, called “world schools,” exists. Within this realm of debate, a team of three competes together and presents four different speeches, in which one person presents twice. Zislin used to compete in debate on behalf of the school, but she now will compete on a team in the international circuit with nine other students from across the country. When they compete, they represent the United States. The students on the national team compete against teams including China, Malaysia and the Philippines.
“When you speak with international students, with kids from different countries, their perspectives on issues are so much broader than debates that you experience on a national level,” she said. “On the national level, there are certain things that are always prioritized, such as protecting free speech and the free market, but on the international circuit, those American parameters are gone.”
Zislin appreciates the element of international debate which poses fewer limits to her ideas and arguments. Because she has always engaged in the field of Congressional Debate, she felt she had a problem competing on the national level because she makes statements or proposes bills that presented as too weird or radical.
“Debate is my ultimate passion. I love arguing. I love yelling at people. The USA team gives you the opportunity to discuss topics in ways that the national circuit doesn’t allow,” Zislin said.