Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
January 28, 2022

It is easy to see why senior Vivek Suri, a member of the Hopkins debate team, is so good at what he does: He is articulate, has a confident tone and knows just how much eye contact to make with his opponent.

It is these skills that have made him persuasive enough to qualify for the American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA) National tournament for the fourth year in a row.

He will be competing with his usual debate partner, Sean Withall.

Suri discussed the challenges of competing at the national level rather than smaller tournaments.

"At most tournaments, you will often face people who are at their very first tournament in debate or who are only sporadic debaters," Suri said.

"In a normal tournament, you will have a lot of easy rounds because you have more experience than the other side. But this is never true at the National Championship. Every single round is something that you might potentially lose very easily if you're not at the top of your game, so it's very challenging."

Prior to coming to Hopkins, Suri had no experience in debate. He chose to participate in it at the college level because he wanted an activity that would keep him from wasting the weekends.

"I saw a lot of fliers on campus advertising the debate team," he said. "I didn't even dream that I would be as successful as I've been. I wanted to do it because it seemed like fun."

Suri explained that there are two main things that he likes about debate.

"The first is the opportunity to discuss, talk about things I've never even thought about before, let alone things I have a view on. Very often they are ethical, political, other questions that come up that I've never given any thought to before. It's exciting to have to come up with something," he said.

"The second part that's fun is the opportunity to meet people who are extremely smart, extremely hard working from many different parts of the country."

While those have been his favorite aspects of debate competition, he mentioned another perk.

"I also like the travel. I've been to Ireland, I've been to California; I've been to a lot of places throughout the country," he said.

Time is a big part of debate, Suri said. Participating in the team is a huge time commitment, and a lot of work goes into practices. Often, the team travels to tournaments at other schools. Some members of the team go weekly, whereas others are less involved.

Seniors, according to Suri, do not practice as much as the younger team members. They do get practice rounds in and do discuss strategies, but the setting is often informal, like over coffee on a weekday morning. Above all, he said that balance between debate and school is paramount, as it is with other activities.

"It might be because we're lazy, it's probably because we have a lot of other work that we have to do during," Suri said "This is a very time consuming activity. We have to leave usually on Friday mornings, and we might not get back until Sunday. It's an entire weekend gone. If you're not careful, your academics can suffer."

Despite the issues with time commitments, Suri said that the Hopkins debate team has been very successful. The league in which Hopkins competes is comprised of several other private institutions, including all the Ivy League schools, Stanford and the University of Chicago. Even with the stiff competition, the team consistently does very well.

"Firstly, we have a lot of incredibly talented people on the team," Suri said.

"Secondly, we have a great institutional ability to train those people to become good debaters. I think that's because people who were previously successful have been willing to sacrifice their time to assist the newer members, who are talented, to hone their skills and become better debaters.

"My freshman year, I had a lot of help from the upperclassmen, a lot of help from people who have already graduated. I think that kind of generosity is what helps keep us going. And I think that if you look at the other schools that are most successful, it is exactly the same thing that has kept them going as well."

Suri talked a little more about what sets APDA apart from other debate leagues, one being that it is more impromptu.

Rather than have a particular resolution, or topic, that has been predetermined, one of the teams in that particular round proposes the resolution.

"Here, every round is between two teams," Suri said. "One of the teams proposes the resolution, entirely at its discretion. It can pick any subject that is considered debatable. There are a few rules governing what you can choose, but they are very minor constraints. So, this means that we end up discussing a lot of different subjects. The other side - the one that has to oppose - will not know what the resolution is going to be until its opponent starts speaking. So, you have your opponent's speech in which to come up with what you're going to say next."

For APDA, the teams work in pairs. Your success is as much your own as it is your partner's, though individual scores are given. Suri gave an example of one topic that was difficult to argue because it required such specific knowledge. His partner, however, was well enough versed in the subject.? ?

"It was one from last year's national championship semi-final round, about uranium mining in Virginia. The reason it was very difficult to argue is that the round depended a lot on specific knowledge about energy crisis the United States is facing and about policies of Virginia with specific respect to that energy crisis. If you don't have that kind of knowledge, it's very difficult to know where to go."

Because the debate teams work in pairs, it is possible to face other members of your team in one round. Suri said the situations can be very awkward, especially if you've previously debated with the opponent as your partner.

"Sometimes, it's your partner form the previous tournament whose on the other side," he said.

"So you're thinking to yourself, what argument is he going to come up with based on what he came up with last week. You try to out-maneuver them in that way. It's also a lot of fun; even if you lose the round you know someone from your team in a broader sense has won."

In spite of the sometimes-awkward encounters, Suri said there have been many memorable moments in debate; in particular, one from last year's National Championship, and the other is from an Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Tournament in December.

"I was the runner up at the National Championship. It was a very nice event, a great memory for me because it was an opportunity for me to debate in front of the entire league. I relished that challenge," he said.

"The other one I really enjoyed was the MIT tournament at the end of 2009. Usually, you debate with other people from your own school.

It's permissible to debate with someone from another school, although it's not frequent. At MIT, since no one else from Hopkins wanted to go - people were studying for their exams - I got to debate with someone from a different school. It's always a new perspective that you get in competing with someone you're competing against most of the year."

Though Suri owes a lot of his success to his own skills and hard work, he also gives credence to that fact that luck is a major factor.?

"Luck it probably the most important," Suri said.

"If your opponent chooses a topic that you're very familiar with, then you have an easier round. If it's something you know little about, you have a harder round. If the judge is someone who is more persuaded by the kind of philosophy you've chosen to argue, you're lucky. If he isn't then you're unlucky. You make your own luck through hard work and through practice."?

By PHYLLIS ZHU Staff Writer

Sophomore Andrew Rys was announced as the winner of the Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions "Start Your Success Story" national sweepstakes late February.

The sweepstakes was created to give university students a chance to pay off loans, enroll in graduate, law or medical school, or start their own business.

The International Studies major and philosophy minor from Reston, Virginia almost didn't believe that he had won $25,000.

In fact, he had no idea he had been entered into the contest in the first place.

"When I signed up for the GRE's the girl signed me up [for the sweepstakes]," he said.

"I actually thought it was a scam at first, so I hung up on the woman when she called me to tell me I won."

The unprecedented award, according to Rys, alleviates some economic pressure and will give him more academic opportunities during his college career.

"It definitely means I can take an unpaid internship, and I don't have to worry about working," he said.

Rys plans on putting the money towards tuition for graduate school.

He hopes to eventually be able to enroll in Tufts University or Columbia University.

By ELIZABETH KELEN For The News-Letter

A commemorative event was held to honor Frederick Scott, the first African American student to graduate from Hopkins yesterday.

Scott graduated in the class of 1950.

The event was held at 7 p.m. in the Charles Commons ballroom.

Approximately 30 guests celebrated Scott's achievement by listening to a panel discussion.

The discussion included several community leaders, including Baltimore City Councilman Bill Henry, community advocates Glenn Ross and Laura Furr and Dr. Mavis Sanders, a faculty member at the School of Education.?

The discussion centered on ways to make meaningful change in Baltimore, as well as plans for some of the specific projects on which the panel members were working. ?

Nicholas Brady, an attendee, emphasized that the event was held to help promote what Scott "has devoted his life to: activism and community outreach." ?

Scott himself attended the event, as he has every year, and as Brady said, "He had a lot to say."

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