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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Speech and debate team members make history at international tournament in Dublin

From left, Kayla Armbruster ‘25, Olivia DeCesare ‘26, Stella Del Tergo ‘25, Dr. Deion Hawkins, and Braelyn Spitler ‘25 (August Fowle ’24 not pictured) in Ireland for the IFA tournament. (Photo courtesy of Stella Del Tergo)

Emerson’s Speech and Debate team traveled to Dublin, Ireland, to attend the International Forensics Association (IFA)’s 34th Annual Speech & Debate Tournament and Conference from March 8 to 13. 

According to the association’s website, the IFA seeks to “promote the diversity of speech and debate competition in countries around the world by hosting an annual tournament in alternating geographic locations.” Past tournament locations have included Tokyo, Japan (2023); Berlin, Germany (2019); Montreal, Québec, Canada (2018); and Lima, Peru (2017).

Emerson’s team is split into distinct speech and debate cohorts. Olivia Decesare ‘26, August Fowle ‘24, and Braelyn Spitler ‘25 participate in debate events, whereas Kayla Armbruster ‘25 and Stella Del Tergo ‘25 participate in speech events. Fowle serves as the team’s captain, and the team is coached by Dr. Deion Hawkins, Ph.D

The IFA competition was made up of many events. On the debate side, competitors could participate in the International Public Debate Association (IPDA) event, the National Parliamentary Debate Association (NPDA) event, or the British Parliamentary (BP) Debate event. On the speech side, there were more than 14 events to choose from, including informative speaking, prose interpretation, extemporaneous speaking, poetry interpretation, and after-dinner speaking. 

Del Tergo, a third-year political communication major, participated in the informative speaking event, where competitors deliver factual speeches on topics that the audience is not familiar with. Del Tergo spoke about the Daughters of the Confederacy, a Confederate women’s historical organization founded after the Civil War. 

“They built over 500 Confederate monuments across the Southern United States and are responsible for curriculum that teaches the Civil War being about state rights,” said Del Tergo. “These efforts erase slavery’s impact on the Civil War, and I was able to talk about this social group of white women who were pushing racist ideologies.” 

Del Tergo made history as the first Emerson student to place in the finals of an international speech competition in more than 25 years. 

“I was exceptionally proud of myself just because I exceeded my expectations,” said Del Tergo. “Being in the final round was such an experience. Seeing the best of the informative speeches was amazing.” 

In addition to Del Tergo’s impressive performance, all four of her teammates also placed in the top 20 percent of their events at the tournament, according to a LinkedIn post by the School of Communication. Spitler was one of the only novices to advance at the tournament, and Fowle placed in the top 30 debaters at the tournament. 

Armbruster, a third-year political communication major with a minor in journalism, participated in the prose interpretation event, where students typically deliver the same speech throughout the season, usually a fictional story on a real topic. Armbruster’s speech centered around increasing mental health awareness on college campuses and ensuring that students do not “suffer in silence.” 

“My speech itself is about a person who works at the suicide hotline trying to understand the meaning of life while struggling with mental illness,” said Armbruster. “The speech shows how the main character relates to a caller’s depression to their own depression while understanding that there are a lot of things that are worth staying on this Earth for.”

DeCesare, a second-year political communication major, participated in the IPDA event, in which contestants debate affirmatively and negatively on a specific topic. DeCesare debated topics such as whether soccer or football is the superior sport, whether Ireland should join NATO, and whether housing is a human right. 

“The way the debate is set up is that you get five topics on a sheet of paper, and you and your opponent take turns crossing topics out until one left, and that’s the topic that you debate,” said DeCesare. “You have 30 minutes to research, and then you just start debating.”

Spitler, a third-year political communication major with minors in pre-law and peace and social justice, also participated in the IPDA event. Spitler emphasized that various aspects of their Emerson education helped them at the IFA competition. 

“Being able to succinctly research and analyze information is something that an Emerson education has helped a lot with, particularly in my politician communication classes,” Spitler said.

DeCesare added that the emphasis Emerson puts on discussing current events in class has helped prepare for tournaments like the IFA. 

“In all of my classes, we’re almost always talking about current events,” said DeCesare. “When we are debating at tournaments, it’s always about current topics. We don’t debate about stuff that happened in the past.”

Armbruster, DeCesare, Del Tergo, and Spitler all credited Hawkins for coaching them along the way to success. 

“Deion being my coach has been the biggest help because he knows so much about speech, debate, and the many tropes within these genres,” said Armbruster. “He also understands what it’s like to also be a student having to commit so much time to an extracurricular activity, and is always there to support us.”

While in Ireland, members of the team visited some of the country’s most prized attractions. Most notable were the Cliffs of Moher, according to Del Tergo. 

“Visiting the Cliffs of Moher was a life-changing experience,” said Del Tergo,  “We got to go on a ferry ride that went down and around the cliffs. Then we got to go to the top of the cliffs and the perspective from the top was breathtaking.” 

The team also toured the Guinness factory and saw a lot of Irish step dancing in preparation for St. Patrick’s Day. DeCesare also recounted that they made a brief pit-stop at a gas station in Tipperary dedicated to former U.S. President Barack Obama, which has gone viral on social media in recent years. 

“When we were driving home from the Cliffs of Moher, our tour guide noted that the next gas station was coming up,” said DeCesare. “He was like, ‘You guys are going to love this. It’s a gas station of one of your guys’ presidents,’ and I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s the Barack Obama gas station!’”

Members of the Speech and Debate Team held a showcase on Monday, April 8, in the SPC Black Box, giving members of the Emerson community a glimpse into what a typical speech and debate tournament would look like. 

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  • Members of the Speech and Debate Team field questions after the Emerson Speech and Debate Showcase in the SPC Black Box on Monday, April 8, 2024. Team members include (from top left to bottom right) Olivia DeCesare ’26, Stella Del Tergo ’25, Kayla Armbruster ’25, August Fowle ’24, and Braelyn Spitler ’25. (DJ Mara/Beacon Staff)

  • Stella Del Tergo ’25 performs her informative speech on the United Daughters of the Confederacy at the Emerson Speech and Debate Showcase in the SPC Black Box on Monday, April 8, 2024. (DJ Mara/Beacon Staff)

  • Dr. Deion Hawkins, Ph.D., coach of the Emerson Speech and Debate Team, speaks at the team’s showcase in the SPC Black Box on Monday, April 8, 2024. (DJ Mara/Beacon Staff)

  • Kayla Armbruster ’25 performs her prose interpretation surrounding mental health struggles of college students at the Emerson Speech and Debate Showcase in the SPC Black Box on Monday, April 8, 2024. (DJ Mara/Beacon Staff)

  • August Fowle ’24, left, and Braelyn Spitler ’25, right, participate in a debate on whether Taylor Swift or Beyoncé is superior at the Emerson Speech and Debate Showcase in the SPC Black Box on Monday, April 8, 2024. (DJ Mara/Beacon Staff)

Armbruster and Del Tergo recited their respective pieces from the IFA Tournament, whereas Fowle and Spitler debated whether Taylor Swift is better than Beyoncé. Fowle pointed out that the artists have accumulated immense success in their respective fields and cannot be compared in this way. 

“Taylor Swift herself has asked people to stop comparing her to Beyoncé,” said Fowle. “They should not be compared [to each other], as it is like comparing a painter and a sculptor. They are both making incredible impacts on their listeners and the world around them.”

Although the debate was spirited about whether “Queen Bey” or “Miss Americana” has had a greater impact on the music industry, Fowle and Spitler both noted that the debates are never personal but are more about winning the round. 

“I promise we are friends in real life,” Fowle joked. 

“It’s not personal, it never is,” Spitler added. 

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About the Contributor
DJ Mara
DJ Mara, Kasteel Well Bureau Co-Editor

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