Boston Debate League

Alumni Reflection

October 3, 2022 | By Anna Zhao

Building a Family at the BDL

Comforting hugs on cold Saturday mornings before sunrise, accompanied by the unique melody of passionate debaters typing away on their computers. This is the first image that appears when I think of the Boston Debate League. My name is Anna Zhao, a class of 2021 BDL alum from the Josiah Quincy Upper School. .

The competitive debate space has a public perception of being cold and cutthroat. However, I believe the BDL space is a haven for debaters to learn and develop their skills while fostering meaningful life-long friendships. I experienced positive culture shock when I initially joined the BDL in middle school. Unlike what I have seen portrayed on television, all the debaters and staff greeted me with a smile and open arms. I met my sister from another mother, Phebean, at the BDL, and she is an infamous hugger and the brightest personality around. There is a unique ambiance within the BDL that encourages debaters to engage in critically challenging contestation in the round while maintaining and building meaningful friendships outside of rounds. As a woman of color, I saw judges, coaches, organizers, and fellow debaters who looked like me at the BDL. They guided and motivated me to become a better debater and student. The relationships built in the urban debate leagues surpass the debate space.

The diverse and culturally enriched backgrounds of urban debaters allow all participants to broaden their perspectives and critically think about the world in which we live. Within the Boston Debate League, there is a circulating saying that goes, “once you join, you become family.” I started my debate journey in middle school and grew up in this space, continuing through high school and beyond. As a student attending college out of state, I always try to find tethers to my urban debate roots. During the 2021-22 season, I was able to judge the City Championship and it brought back all my high school memories at the BDL. There is so much more to debate than victory, nothing can replace the lifelong connections debaters build within the debate space. I saw friends I haven’t seen in months if not years, and everyone is as welcoming as ever.

Being a BDL alum means you are family. This past summer, I was able to return to the BDL as a White & Case NAUDL fellow on the External Affairs team. This gave me a new perspective on the debate space. There are so many internal factors debaters don’t see that are vital to the upkeep of debate as we know it. Having first-hand engagement with this side of the organization allowed me to gain an even deeper appreciation for the work of the BDL.

“There is a unique ambiance within the BDL that encourages debaters to engage in critically challenging contestation in the round while maintaining and building meaningful friendships outside of rounds.”

– Anna Zhao

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