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A transformative experience—no debate about it

For more than half a century, high-school students from all over Canada have gathered at McGill once a year to argue about things – all in a spirit of respectful discussion, of course.

This year, the 51st annual McGill High School Debating Tournament, organized by the McGill Debating Union, welcomed 187 Canadian students for a test of their argumentative acumen.  Arts undergrad Kate Winbaum, one of the tournament’s co-directors, says the event gives teens much more than a place to disagree.

“McGill has an amazing debate team,” Winbaum says. “We just won the North American championships last year – so we can teach them how to construct an argument, how to rationally think through any idea whether you agree with it or not, and how to make sure an argument is complete and convincing.”

“And all these skills are transferable – debating teaches you first and foremost to communicate, and that’s a skill that’s applicable whether you’re in a job interview, making a presentation for school or talking to a professor.

Participating students do more than just debate – Winbaum and other seasoned university debaters organize tours of McGill and Montreal, to give high-schoolers the full tourist experience – and a taste of university life.

“Some people come a really long way to get here,” says Winbaum, who herself moved some 900km from Windsor, Ontario to study Political Science, Sociology and Communications at McGill.  “This is the tournament that they want to be at.  McGill is an amazing school, and for these kids to be able to see what it’s like to be at a top school in Canada – it’s an opportunity that lots of kids wouldn’t have.  And it can help them make a smoother transition from high school into university-level debating.”

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