My Experience at the 2023 Harvard Debate Tournament

By Daniela Morales, 10th Grade

The New Horizons Debate Team, along with teams from other Dominican schools, left for the Harvard Debate Tournament on February 16th. But if you ask me, we had already been mentally in Boston since December 2022, the month in which the resolution we would be debating was announced: “In the United States, right to work laws do more harm than good”. These are laws that give workers the choice to not be part of a labor union or pay union fees without their employment being at risk. From the moment the topic was announced, the team began preparing, building cases either affirming or negating the resolution, putting the same effort into both sides of the topic, because during a round you don’t know what you’ll be representing until a coin is flipped. 

However, our preparation for Harvard was not only about the technicalities of debate, but about mental strength. The pressure you’re exposed to before and during the Harvard tournament is something only people that have lived it can imagine. Our main coach and founder of the debate team, Mr. Arturo Feliz, told us all the time that we would not have a normal Christmas break, and he did not lie. It was not only a chaotic Christmas break, but a whole two chaotic months, where if you looked closely at a laptop you would surely see nearly a million tabs open featuring the U.S. Department of Labor, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and Harvard University websites. We would not stop—in our free time and in between classes. On Saturdays at 8 am in what we call “internos” (practice tournaments), you would hear the sound of our voices crafting a similar tune. A tune that now, two weeks after coming back from Boston, I’m proud to say is the sound of success.

In our workshops, we learned how to project our voices, gain the attention of an entire room, manipulate our body language to seem confident, and adapt to judges. I especially want to emphasize the judges’ part, because at Harvard, anyone can be your judge. That means you have to make a speech that can persuade and appeal to a democrat, a republican, a single mother, a lawyer, a fast food worker, a college student, a doctor, or an immigrant, among so many other demographics. Our team excelled at doing this, always remembering that we don’t have to convince ourselves or the opposite team—the only one that matters is the judge. 

The night before the tournament, our coaches gave us a pep talk and renewed the sense of security we had—that our efforts would pay off. They did pay off since even though everyone on our team lost a round on the first day, we persevered and supported each other. When anyone found a new piece of evidence, it was shared with the whole team, because we were not working to win against each other, and even if we lost, we lost so that others in our teams could learn from our mistakes and win their rounds. 

The second and third days at Harvard were one of the most meaningful, emotional, and stressful days of my life. Like everyone else, my partner and I woke up on the second day with the pressure of knowing that what we did that day would determine if we would classify. There were a lot of happy and sad tears. Happiness sprung up when Maia Lockward & Amelia Colon, both middle schoolers, qualified for Harvard Nationals in Junior Varsity, a category full of high school students. Liah Noboa & Carlota Montas, Camila Santana & Mia Rodriguez, and Johnny and Ricardo Colon also qualified for nationals, which amounted to four of our teams classifying in a category where they were competing as locals. In the international category, our team made it hard for anyone that was not Dominican to win, since five out of the eight qualifying international teams were from our school. Maria Feliz & Duane Bollig, Abraham Jaar & Gloria Alcantara, Levi García & Marco Casado, Gabriela Price & Yun Ru Lin, and Sofia Rojas & me, Daniela Morales, classified. Our school also won nine out of ten prizes for the top ten speakers in the international division. 

For the first time in the whole tournament, we were competing against each other. But this was without losing sight of the most important thing: in a round that is New Horizons vs. New Horizons, only New Horizons can win. I feel privileged that I could debate against my friends knowing all the work they had put into their cases, having helped them and them having helped me, and that we entered our rounds against each other as friends and went out of them with an even stronger bond. 

We reached the finals in the international category, Sofia Rojas and me against a team from Canada. I couldn’t have been more grateful or luckier to debate with her and to have the support of the entire delegation, which all piled up into a tiny classroom of Harvard’s science building and even sat on the floor to watch us debate. We lost the round and finalized the tournament as sub-champions for the international division. Regardless of the outcome, I didn’t feel like a loser—with so much love from my team and the messages from home, how could I? 

I write this article with a smile on my face, recounting memories that I’ll never forget. I want to say thank you to all the coaches, for their patience, dedication, and hard work, for pushing us beyond our limits while we do something we love. Thank you to my parents as well as all the debate team parents, for encouraging their kids to pursue debate and being there always and especially in difficult moments. Thank you to every member of the team, especially those that went on the trip, but also those that rooted for us back home. We have become a family and that, combined with our hard work, is what distinguishes us from other teams.


One thought on “My Experience at the 2023 Harvard Debate Tournament

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s