By Grace Deng
President of Shanghai Scholars Katie Chen responded to the first issue of the day, her phone buzzing nonstop. It was the first day of SASDO (pronounced SAS-doh), or Shanghai American School Debate Open. This was the second annual debate Shanghai Scholars has ever organized.
“First time we did this it was two years ago, and it was just a Friday afternoon,” Chen said while texting Annie Qiu, the vice president of Shanghai Scholars. “This is the first time that we’ve hosted a competition of this magnitude.”
SASDO was a two-day event from September 22 to 23 held at Shanghai American School’s Pudong campus, attended by about 6 schools, 60 debaters, 15 judges and 25 volunteers. It was a joint venture between Shanghai Scholars and SAS Puxi’s debate club. It’s no wonder Chen’s day started before she even got to school. A volunteer shows up early, and some kids leave on the wrong bus. Rehearsals for the high school musical Elf, basketball and volleyball games, and a swim meet were all happening at the same time as SASDO, so mixups with other SAS busses happened.
“We don’t know where any of the kids are,” Chen said.
The debate began with the first topic of the day: affirmative action.
Students split up into their teams and spent 20 minutes preparing, with no research allowed.
“The fact that you can’t do any research is terrifying and exhilarating at the same time to watch,” said English teacher and SASDO judge Michael McAdam. “I can only imagine what it feels like to be on the other side of the desk.”
McAdam added that he thought public speaking was “one of the most important skills to leave high school with,” even if you end up a trash collector. (“For when you win your trash collector of the year award, of course.”)
For many students, this was their first debate ever.
“I joined the debate club two weeks ago,” said Akruthi Chanderekar, who moved to SAS Puxi last year.
Matt Song, Puxi’s debate club president, pushed her to participate. Chanderekar said she has “always been interested in public speaking,” but she never had a chance to do it at her old school.
“At first it seemed very intimidating, but now that I’m already here, I just want to do it,” she said.
While Chen said she wanted SASDO to be very “novice friendly,” SASDO also attracted many veteran debaters. Linden Li, who won the Worlds Schools Debating Championships with the National Team of China, attended to “support Katie Chen and have some fun.” Li, who has debated for two years, spent the preparation time doing physics homework, because him and his partner, Jason Kang, “have a physics test on Tuesday.”
Attendees seemed to agree that the event was well organized. Li said he was impressed by the application Shanghai Scholars were using called Heroku, which he had seen other professional debate competitions use before.
Norman Situ from SMIC said he was here to “steal ideas to make a better debate competition.” Situ, who’s an officer of the debate club at SMIC, said competitions like SASDO help foster a “great community to meet new people.”
At the end of the two days, SAS Pudong students Sherissa Wu and Joey Wang emerged as the champions. The runner-ups were the only two students who came from Hangzhou Foreign Language School, Rita Xu and Yuki Fang.
As for Chen, she’s just happy the debate went as well as it did.
“There were a lot of sweat and tears and blood that went into the preparation of this tournament, and seeing it come together was very satisfying,” Chen said. “As an organizer, I felt really proud that this tournament was able to go as I envisioned it in my head."