For one evening, members of the Burbank High School Speech and Debate team demonstrated that the stereotype of the lethargic and politically-apathetic teenager was false.
The school club hosted its first-ever political debate Tuesday evening in the Wolfson Auditorium at the school, with the event run by students, featuring students and attended primarily by students.
More than 300 attendees watched the set of debates co-hosted by speech and debate members Henry Cook and Yevangelina Poghosyan.
“Basically, my team [and I] saw the climate at school and realized that part of the reason we’re not as tolerant is that we don’t really understand other people’s views,” Cook said. “A lot of the tension, left versus right, comes from nobody really hearing the other side of the story.”
Cook and some other students came up with the idea of a liberals-versus-conservatives format and sought out two students to support each side in a debate that was divided into three heats.
Students Phoebe Kellogg and Vahagn Toumasian were selected to represent the liberal viewpoint, while Adrian Setaghayan and Collin Moyseyev took up the conservative side.
Topics included the viability of the death penalty, legality of sanctuary cities and morality of abortion.
Speech and debate alumni Basil Aranda and Sergey Yengoyan, along with Aleko Brice, president of the school’s Associated Student Body, served as the debate’s three judges.
“I love this idea,” said Aranda, a UCLA freshman. “I don’t think I’d be where I’m at without speech and debate. It’s a great idea to get the student body involved on the pressing topics of the day.”
The debate lasted a little over two hours, with the liberals winning, 2-1.
Perhaps the most boisterous part of the evening came during Kellogg’s defense of abortion, in which she was asked by an audience member how she would feel if she had been aborted.
“I wouldn’t feel anything,” deadpanned Kellogg to thunderous applause from a large female contingent in the audience. “I wouldn’t be alive.”
While the audience reaction stuck with Kellogg, she said she was more impressed to see an outpouring of interest, in general.
“It’s really incredible, not just to have supporters, but to know that there are people out there that want to hear both sides and that want to understand what both sides of the arguments are,” Kellogg said.
“A lot of the problems nowadays have to do with people just going with whatever their party would say instead of doing their own research,” she added.
Setaghayan received his share of praise and catcalls, but the aspiring lawyer said he was pleased with his effort.
“For the first two rounds, I got a lot of cheers, and for the last round, I got a lot of boos,” Setaghayan said. “You know what? That’s just life. That’s freedom of speech, and that’s something I believe in.”
Moyseyev, who just recently moved to Burbank, took part in his first debate.
“Of course, there’s like over 200 people for my first time,” he said with a laugh. “Honestly, I was super anxious because I’ve never spoken in front of that many people, but I was into this experience and I think my future is bright.”
Though at times the rhetoric from the audience grew heated and some responses from debaters were terse, the first speech and debate forum helped dispel one myth.
“This is going to be a way of proving that high schoolers are being politically active and are more intelligent than a lot of people assume,” Poghosyan said. “Especially, today with a lot of high-school movements very prevalent in current events, it’s amazing to have this as a cornerstone of evidence that we can do something.”