Vanderbilt student Daniel Ardity earned a place on the U.S. Debate Team this year, an accomplishment that has allowed him to travel around the world while also continuing to hone his debate skills closer at home.
In this Q&A, Ardity shares how participating in debate at Vanderbilt has shaped his student experience—plus, he explains what it’s like to compete in debate at the international level.
Q: What led you to join the debate team at Vanderbilt?
A: My path to the Vanderbilt debate team began during my high school years when I discovered my passion for debate. It was in ninth grade that I first got introduced to Policy debate, and I was immediately captivated by its challenge and exhilaration. Debate quickly became my No. 1 priority, and I dedicated myself to honing my skills and expanding my knowledge in the field. Through my hard work and commitment, I earned recognition as a nationally ranked debater, achieving a top 25 National Policy Debate Ranking in the National Coaches Poll.
As I prepared to embark on my college journey, I knew that joining a debate team was a must for me. Prior to enrolling at Vanderbilt, I took the initiative to reach out to the coaching staff and captains of the Vanderbilt team. I sought their insights and had conversations about the program, which only served to amplify my enthusiasm for joining the team.
Upon arriving at Vanderbilt, I was eager to immerse myself in the debate community. The guidance and support from Professors Koch and Sandoz, as well as the captains at the time, further fueled my passion for debate. Their expertise and dedication were instrumental in shaping my decision to become a part of the Vanderbilt Debate team. The team welcomed me with open arms, providing a supportive and collaborative environment where I could grow as a debater. The friendships and connections I formed within the team have been invaluable.
Q: How has the debate team shaped your experience at Vanderbilt?
A: I cannot imagine my Vanderbilt experience without debate.
The debate team is an incredible community. From the moment I joined, I found a supportive group of individuals who quickly became my closest friends. We shared a common passion for debate, and our bond extended beyond the squad room. Whether it was team dinners after practice or game nights, these traditions strengthened our connection and created lasting memories. The debate team provided me with my first friend group at Vanderbilt, and some of my best friends are fellow debaters.
Beyond the social aspect, debate has been a remarkable intellectual exercise for me. Engaging in rigorous discussions and exploring diverse perspectives has broadened my understanding of various topics. The process of researching, constructing arguments and delivering speeches has honed my critical thinking, public speaking and analytical skills. I’ve gained a deep appreciation for the power of effective communication and the value of well-reasoned arguments. Being a debater has not only made me a better student by enhancing my ability to analyze complex issues, but being a student has also made me a better debater by equipping me with a solid foundation of knowledge across different subjects.
Participating in the debate team has opened up a world of opportunities for me. Through tournaments, I’ve had the chance to travel both domestically and internationally, experiencing new cultures and meeting debaters from around the world. These experiences have not only broadened my perspective but have also developed me professionally. Debating at a high level has pushed me to constantly improve my skills and adapt to different debate styles and formats. It has taught me resilience, adaptability and the ability to think on my feet. These qualities are invaluable and have prepared me for challenges in my academic and professional endeavors.
Q: What are some of your most memorable Vanderbilt Debate moments so far?
A: Participating in debate competitions at Vanderbilt has provided me with many memorable moments, including the 2023 World Universities Debating Championship in Madrid, my first in-person tournament in San Diego post-COVID, and achieving a No. 1 global ranking during my sophomore year.
The WUDC in Madrid was an unforgettable experience. It was my first international debate tournament, and I had the opportunity to meet debaters from around the world. Engaging in debates with individuals from different cultural backgrounds expanded my perspectives and allowed for a truly global exchange of ideas. Additionally, exploring the vibrant city of Madrid over New Year’s with my closest friends made the experience even more memorable.
The San Diego tournament holds a special place in my heart as it marked my return to in-person debates after the pandemic. It was my first time visiting California, adding an extra layer of excitement to the event. The competitive atmosphere and the chance to engage face to face with other debaters reignited my passion for the sport and reminded me of the unique intellectual challenges that debate offers.
During my sophomore year, I participated in an online tournament where I emerged as the champion and earned the coveted title of the first speaker. This achievement led to the remarkable milestone of attaining the No. 1 ranking globally in Collegiate Public Forum. It was a testament to the hard work, dedication and growth I had experienced throughout my debate journey.
Q: You were named to the U.S. National Debate Team this year. What is involved with this role?
A: I was one of two students selected to represent the U.S. National Debate Team by the National Communication Association. I served as a debater in competition as well as an ambassador for the United States and American forensics in all its forms. I took part in the 2023 Japan Tour hosted by the Japan Debate Association over the summer. We visited Japan’s major cities, engaged in competitive and educational debates, and participate in a series of lectures and roundtables. It was an opportunity for debate and discussion across cultural and national boundaries, and I proudly represented my country, helped to foster mutual understanding and contributed to the exchange of ideas on a global stage.
Q: What is your debate practice schedule like, and how do you balance this with the other demands that come with being a student?
A: Preparing for a competition involves a comprehensive and structured approach to ensure success. Our team follows a weekly practice schedule that includes regular practice debate rounds, team meetings for logistics, strategy and preparation, as well as ad hoc meetings, practice rounds and practice speeches. For parliamentary style debates, I focus on honing my speech skills and staying informed by following current events and news. In evidence-based debates, preparation is more extensive. For example, in the case on gestational surrogacy for the Japan Tour, I conducted meticulous topic research to familiarize myself with the concepts involved, develop strategies and assign specific roles for affirmative and negative side preparation. I conducted thorough research to gather evidence, which is organized into files and shared with the team. Practice speeches and debates are then conducted to refine performance, incorporating the researched evidence effectively.
Balancing the demands of being a student with the commitment required for debate can be challenging, but I am comfortable knowing that competing at the highest levels requires a massive time commitment. However, as a Vanderbilt student, I benefit from my academic coursework that contributes to my debate performance and vice versa. The interplay between academia and debate enhances my skills and knowledge in both areas. Furthermore, growing a larger team and staff allows for shared responsibilities, dividing research tasks and supporting one another to manage the workload effectively.