At 14, Olivia Jaber has mastered one of the key tools to being a lawyer, teacher, researcher, journalist — even politician.
The Pegasus School eighth-grader is the top debater in the country for her age group.
Olivia, a Newport Beach resident, received the Golden Gavel award for placing first during the 2012 Middle School Public Debate Program's 10th annual nationals competition, said Jim Conti, the Pegasus teacher who coaches the debate team.
"It still hasn't really hit me yet," Olivia said. "I was in utter shock. We all contributed to the argument, and my team was so supportive."
Olivia's team was one of three from Pegasus, a private school, that qualified to compete at the national level. Though she placed first for gaining the most individual speaker points, the school placed second after losing the championship round to Brentwood School from Los Angeles.
The competition was held April 21 at Claremont McKenna College. Qualifying to enter it doesn't come easily, Conti said.
But in just two years since Pegasus developed its own debate club, the school came on top at the local level and qualified to enter not just one, but three teams in the national competition.
"It's a combination of a couple things: Pegasus has a lot of talented kids, and we worked hard," Conti said.
Olivia joined the debate club because she loves learning about politics and world affairs.
Debating gives her the opportunity to do all the research necessary for good arguments, and it's also her way of expressing her views, she said.
But it's not easy when she's picked to debate in favor of a side she doesn't believe in.
"That's probably one of the most difficult things I had to overcome," she said. "What I have to do to overcome the problem is ... look at the facts and lay it out on the table."
That alone has taught Olivia an important lesson in life.
"You're going to have problems in front of you," she said. "It teaches you, you can't run away and you have to handle it with common sense and you can't go into anything without evidence. A well-educated opinion is one of the most important things you can have in life."
Olivia is getting ready to go to Newport Harbor High School next year. She said if she can give just one piece of advice to anyone going to middle school, it would be to join a debate club.
"Debate is a good way for me to get more skills and feel more confident in front of people," she said.
Olivia hasn't decided on a career path yet, but she said the law, politics or writing excite her.