Abbey '22 to represent the U.S. on the 2019-20 International Debate Team
It’s Monday evening during the first week of classes, and Fourth Former Abbey Xu is video chatting with new friends. The teens are calling in from California, Florida, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, and Texas, but it’s not a social gathering. The discussion skews to the serious as they rehash current events and experiment with rhetoric and tone.
Xu is one of 12 students – chosen from a field of 90 applicants – named to the USA International Debate Team, part of the National Speech & Debate Association, for the 2019-20 season. She is the first New Hampshire student selected for the honor in seven years. The team will have the opportunity to compete against other countries in the World Schools Debate series, with each student striving to make the final five-person squad in the spring. Official training began in Dallas, Texas, in mid-September, but the team has already dedicated the Monday night group calls to close the gap between the thousands of miles between them and to practice regularly.
As a Third Former, Xu was one of several novice members of the School’s Debate Team who helped secure top placements last season in the competitive Debating Association of New England Independent Schools (DANEIS) league. Xu relishes situations that force her to pivot and think on her feet.
“When we go into elimination rounds, something clicks,” recalls Xu. “You have to react quickly, make decisions, review whether or not your next statement is going to be in line with the rest of your case or whatever your teammates have presented. A lot of things are running through your mind, and you have to make a lot of decisions very quickly.”
She continues, “It really exercises my brain.”
Her first introduction to debate took place in fifth grade. “Growing up, I never really found my thing,” remembers Xu. “A lot of other kids had sports. It wasn’t until I discovered debate that I feel like this was something that I wanted to do, something I felt that I was good at, and something I want to continue doing.”
It’s behind the podium, says the American-born, Shanghai, China, resident, that she feels the most empowered and confident, but it’s not an activity focused on singular achievement. Xu, who is also a member of the varsity volleyball team, well understands the benefits of teamwork. “Volleyball is also a team sport, and I think that's one of the things I enjoy most about it,” she says. “I like the team atmosphere, everybody cheering each other on, and the idea that you can't succeed alone, but you have to have a team behind you. It’s the same with debate.”
Debate is something that also offers continual, personal growth. “Learning with other people, talking about serious issues going on in the world, and sharing my perspective has been eye-opening,” says Xu. “It's something I really enjoy because I continue to be inspired, and I continue to learn new things. It never stops being exciting.”