Should voting be compulsory in a democracy? Is intergenerational accumulation of wealth antithetical to democracy? Should the United States guarantee universal childcare?
These weighty topics have been debated from both sides this year by Homewood-Flossmoor High School senior Alexandria Porter.
She recently was notified that she’s earned Academic All-American recognition from the National Speech and Debate Association. Porter was one of the top students in the country to earn the honor for accumulating 750 or more points for presentations and wins, competing in at least one national tournament and giving service to the organization. She’ll have a special honors cord for commencement.
"Alex has been a phenomenal debater from the beginning, but really started to shine the end of her freshman year," said Kathryn Cole, her coach at H-F. "One of the goals of NSDA is to get students speaking, and even if you lose you are speaking. To get to 750, though, it requires a considerable amount of winning."
“This activity has taught me so many things," Porter said. "This year’s topics are interesting, but we’ve talked about so many topics over my four years that I wouldn’t have thought about,” she said.
Porter is waiting to learn what the topic will be for the national contest conducted online at the end of the school year in June. Once it is announced, she’ll be back at doing research to develop her arguments — pro and con — for competition. Porter had planned for the national competition in Albuquerque in 2020, but due to COVID-19 it turned into a virtual competition.
She qualified for nationals this year by going undefeated at the NSDA district qualifier.
Porter also did virtual competitions at Stanford and the University of Florida and regional competitions against high school debaters from the Chicago area. She took first place in a Schaumburg High School tournament and at the Blue Thunder Invitational hosted by Round Lake High. At the Stanford University tournament, Porter finished 10th among 82 competitors.
Cole said judges gives a score for speaking ability. At Stanford, the maximum was 30 points. Porter was judged six times and earned scores of between 28.6 and 30, giving her a second place win in the speakers category.
In debate, competitors can present as a team or individually. Porter is an individual presenter, known as a Lincoln-Douglas debater. Competitions are three rounds. Debaters don’t know which side of the argument they will be presenting until it’s announced by the judge. For example, at the competition with the childcare question, she argued the affirmative position once and negative twice.
The competition sounds something like lawyers presenting a legal argument with one side presenting and the other side asking questions for the debater to defend the argument that’s been made. Then the other side presents and rebuttal questions are asked. The back and forth wraps up with final arguments. Each round takes about 45 minutes.
Debate topics force Porter to do extensive research, draft her arguments and practice delivering them for her competition rounds. This year she competed nine times.
“The writing part isn’t so bad, but I feel like developing ideas and finding evidence to back up my ideas is probably the hardest part,” she said. H-F gives students access to databases for research, and she can usually get her cases written in two weeks.
Porter, daughter of Sheila Yarborough of Glenwood, admits debate wasn’t on her list of priorities as a freshman. She’d played volleyball at Infant Jesus of Prague School and wanted to continue, but didn’t make the team. A promotional video for debate got her interested enough to go to an informational meeting.
“I love the people, and I showed up for the first practice and I never left,” she said. Porter is undecided on her college choice. Her intention is to join coach Cole in preparing students to represent H-F for the 2021-22 debate season. As a member of the National Speech and Debate Association, she’s coached novices from other schools at local competitions.