The lessons that Khai-Thi Pham has learned from her extracurricular are undebatable


Khai-Thi Pham

Khai-Thi works hard at all of her extracirriculars, but debate is one of her frontrunners.

Sophomore Khai-Thi Pham fought against another student who had claimed that “racism is just a feeling.” Thankfully, Khai-Thi was in an environment where arguing and getting your point across is commonplace and applauded. Despite her boldness on the podium, Khai-Thi actually discovered debate from a much quieter activity: color guard.

When her teammates, senior Amant Grewal and sophomore Eshana Kaur, approached her with the topic of the debate team, Khai-Thi was hooked. Because color guard is completely physical and requires minimal voice, being thrown into debate was a splash of cold water—an eye-opening one.

“Being honest, I didn’t originally plan on [joining debate],” said Khai-Thi. “Amant was in color guard with me, and was like, ‘I run debate, and I’m the captain.’ Eshana [said] ‘oh, I might do debate.’ I was like, ‘you know what, I’ll try it out.’ So, I didn’t exactly plan to go. I just kind of ended up there.”

Despite the fact that Khai-Thi didn’t see debate in her future, it has been a staple in her life ever since she joined. With her friends by her side, Khai-Thi has been able to accomplish many feats within debate. 

Additionally, she has seen improvements in her public speaking both within and outside of the debate team. Because she must present her argument clearly and think on her feet, her speaking skills have soared in many ways.

“[My public speaking] improved a lot,” Khai-Thi said. “It got rid of my stutter completely, and it definitely helped me understand things more clearly. I can process things a lot faster. I mostly did it just for fun because that’s all it is to me, [but] also, it’s a really good public speaking experience.”

Debate is a fast-paced, high-intensity sport for verbal flexibility and mental agility. Because thinking at such a level in a safe environment is already complex enough, being in front of scoring judges is even more challenging.

Because the two teams are debating different sides of the same topic and get points for how well they defend their own argument and attack the opposing team, there is always a flurry of pressure in the room. Fortunately, Khai-Thi knows what works best for her when managing her emotions in debate.

“It’s stressful, but it’s kind of a good stress,” Khai-Thi said. “It’s fun because of all of the adrenaline. My favorite part is piecing together a plan, so that way, you can shut down your opponent. Being able to have evidence that is better completely ruins your opponents.”

It helps me understand why certain viewpoints are made. You can see the thought process behind them; you can see how they do have some evidence.

Although debate is primarily a competition, there are values behind it besides improving speech and argument qualities. There is much to be learned about any topic, and through debate, Khai-Thi learns more about an issue every time she is up against someone else.

While many can get caught up in the spirit of winning, Khai-Thi is able to bring herself down to Earth and appreciate the points that the opposing team is making.

“It helps me understand why certain viewpoints are made,” Khai-Thi said. “You can see the thought process behind them; you can see how they do have some evidence.”

Of course, Khai-Thi isn’t able to explore all the opportunities of the vast world of debate all alone. Each debate member is part of the team, but their closest ally is their debate partner. 

Khai-Thi was with her debate partner, junior Saniya Mishra, for the first time this year. They’ve been able to work together cohesively very quickly and put their minds together to take their opponents down.

“It definitely helps a lot with teamwork—you cannot do debate alone,” said Khai-Thi. “I would hate it. Sometimes, you just can’t see something, but your partner will notice it. It helps to see all of the possibilities.”