Exeter pair argues way to national debate finals

Kilin Tang '21 and Aaron Joy '23 place second in their division of the National Speech & Debate Association tourney.

July 13, 2021

Aaron Joy (left) and Kilin Tang were runners-up in the public-forum debate division .

More than 6,600 students from 1,400 high schools around the United States spent a week in intense online competition at the 2021 National Speech & Debate Tournament last month. When the week was over, two Exonians stood among the finalists.

Kilin Tang ’21 and Aaron Joy ’23 partnered their way through a grueling schedule and 360 rival teams to reach the public forum division finals, eventually placing second to a team from Maryland.

The National Speech and Debate Association’s (NSDA) National Tournament is the culminating event of a competitive speaking circuit that includes tens of thousands of teams from across the country. Tang, Joy and the tandem of Albert Chu ’21 and Shrayes Upadhyayula ’22 earned places in the national tournament’s public forum division after success in the regional qualifier in March. Sachin Shetty ’23 also represented Exeter at the nationals in the original oratory division.

The public forum duos were tasked with arguing the resolution “In the United States, social media is beneficial for democratic values.” As is always the case in public forum debate, teams must be prepared to argue both sides of any resolution, and a team’s position on the resolution varies by round. Joy said he and Tang “immersed ourselves with literature on both sides, and we spent hours researching and writing about the intricacies of social media and its implications on democratic values.”

The pair built an 11-1 record through six preliminary rounds (two judges per round), before advancing to the elimination round, which featured a double-elimination format. Tang and Joy continued through three days of 10 back-to-back rounds, defeating many nationally ranked teams on the debate circuit. They ultimately spent over 16 hours in live competitive debate and countless more hours working together in between and after rounds to reach the final.

Chu and Upadhyayula also advanced to the elimination round after compiling a 9-3 record in the preliminaries. Shetty, who delivered a speech titled “From Three to Sixteen with Some Music in Between,” also advanced to elimination rounds.

“The experience was exhilarating throughout,” Joy said. “We had a phenomenal journey, and had the opportunity to debate and discuss crucial and complex issues with some of the best debaters from around the country.”