As senior debaters, Amy Jayasuriya and Sylvie Richards have learned a lot. I sat down with them to learn about their past experiences and words of wisdom.
By: Ariana Trammell ’24, student journalist and debate member
I caught up with debate co-captains, Amy Jayasuriya and Sylvie Richards, before they went to help teach novice practice. As a debater myself, I was excited to sit down and talk with them about their experiences during their time on O’Dowd’s debate team. A bitter-sweet conversation, we talked about the entirety of their debate careers, starting with their novice year and ending with what they’ll miss about O’Dowd debate while in college.
ARIANA TRAMMELL: What’s one thing you remember about your first year doing debate at O’Dowd?
SYLVIE RICHARDS: I remember our captain, Alden. She became my inspiration and mentor. She inspired me to use my voice for activism. She also inspired my vision for a positive debate community. She made me feel so loved and is the reason I have been debating for so long.
AMY JAYASURIYA: I remember that I was really shy in 9th grade, and Alden encouraged me to go to varsity practices during my time as a novice. After I joined, I found a lot of friends I really liked and they helped me to gain more confidence.
ARIANA TRAMMELL: What’s your favorite part about being on O’ Dowd’s Debate Team?
AMY JAYASURIYA: The community! I wouldn’t have gotten so close with people that share similar interests with me, like activism, if it wasn’t for the club. I also really like that I’ve been able to meet people from other schools that I would have never known through debate tournaments.
SYLVIE RICHARDS: For me it’s the community, too. The debate team has been a family I can go to, and that’s been a great escape for me throughout high school. My other favorite thing is knowing about current events and being able to participate in conversations with adults. It’s really important to know about current events because of my involvement in activism, and also just to be a well-rounded human being. Debate has forced me to know what’s going on, but now I love staying up to date on what’s happening in the world.
ARIANA TRAMMELL: What’s your favorite part about being on leadership?
AMY JAYASURIYA: I love teaching the novices. It helps me improve my debate skills, and it’s nice getting to know the 9th graders and get a chance to understand what they’re interested in.
SYLVIE RICHARDS: My favorite part is being able to teach and be a resource for anyone who is interested in debate. Watching people grow up as debaters and as people is so amazing, and being able to be a tiny part of that is something I’ve really benefited from.
ARIANA TRAMMELL What would you say to students who are interested in joining the Debate Team next year?
AMY JAYASURIYA: If you want to find people who share similar interests and create great friendships, debate is a great way to do that. Also, if you’re interested in activism, debate helps you learn about different topics, whether it’s the environment or institutional racism. My knowledge has really expanded. It’s also helped me with my leadership skills and improved my confidence.
SYLVIE RICHARDS: Debate might seem like a competitive and hard activity where you have to be super smart and know everything (I mean, that’s what I thought!), but at O’Dowd it’s really community focused. Everyone surrounding you cares about you and is going to help you every step of the way. You leave debate with a ton of friends that become your family.
ARIANA TRAMMELL: How do you balance debate with school and other extracurriculars?
AMY JAYASURIYA: For school, debate and school overlap, especially for history and English classes. In terms of extracurriculars, I did tennis in 9th grade and I found it really easy to do a sport while debating. It eventually got to a point where I really got into debate and wanted to focus on that, so for people who are nervous about not being able to balance things, as a novice, the commitment level is really low. If you find that you love it, then it can be your main commitment.
SYLVIE RICHARDS: I’ve done debate along with a part-time job throughout all of high school, and like Amy, I’ve taken the hardest AP’s you can do. I’ve also done a lot of volunteering and worked with other organizations. So you really can do debate alongside other activities. Also, people balance sports with other activities, and even though debate isn’t a sport, the hours are similar. Also, the good thing about specifically Parliamentary debate (O’Dowd offers two forms of debate: Parliamentary and Public Forum) is that you don’t have to do much research, you just need to stay aware of what’s going on. I listen to an NPR podcast that only takes 15 minutes of my day. If you’re like me and Amy, you’re going to end up putting in more hours than you realize because you want to be there for the team.
ARIANA TRAMMELL: What will you miss most about debate when you go off to college?
AMY JAYASURIYA: Teaching the novices will be one of the things I miss the most. It gave me a lot of leadership skills and has helped me with public speaking, which I used to hate. The fact that I won’t be able to see what the novices will do during the rest of their debate career makes me extremely sad. I’ll definitely visit, but I won’t be able to see how they grow every practice.
SYLVIE RICHARDS: The debate community is my family and it feels like I’ll lose a part of myself when I leave. I’ll miss every single person, even the ones I don’t know super well. I’ll miss the adrenaline rush and dopamine I get with every competitive debate round. But it’s mostly the people I’ll miss. It’ll be really hard not to see people grow every step of the way.