It’s good to talk – friends win debate event
Yasser Baia, Sierra Brangman and Tyrese Coakley are the kind of friends who tease each other endlessly.
They share a passion for debate, and argue everything from vegetarianism to who buys the next round of fries.
“We’re besties,” said Sierra, 16.
The Berkeley Institute trio think their friendship was their “secret weapon” in the Bermuda Debate Society competition last month.
They won the senior division and took home the Victoria Cox Memorial Trophy.
“You don’t see other debate teams laughing with each other the way we do,” said Sierra. “And because we hang out together all the time, we have more time to prepare for debates.”
She said some debaters can be selfish, holding back a good point for themselves instead of passing it to their team-mate.
But that’s not what they are about.
“For us, the bigger goal is to win as a team, not individually,” she said, insisting that their strengths and weaknesses balance each other out.
Sierra is very organised and loves breaking down other people’s arguments. Yasser, 17, is not quite as organised, but loves doing research.
“I am great at making arguments,” said Tyrese, 18. “I’m just not good at picking apart the finer details of other people’s arguments.”
The team lost to BHS at the Annual National Schools’ Debate Tournament last year by half a point.
It was Tyrese and Yasser’s fourth time participating, and Sierra’s third.
“The first time I took part, when I was 14, I had an anxiety attack,” said Sierra.
“I was crying and my lovely team-mates comforted me. It wasn’t the first time I had debated and we weren’t very prepared and I was not liking that.”
This year things have been different. In August, the trio represented Bermuda at the World Schools Debating Championships in Bali, Indonesia, along with Megan Sutcliffe and Asha Symons.
“How many people our age can say they’ve been to Bali with their best friends?” said Sierra.
Yasser added: “Debate has really given us the opportunity to go all over and meet different people in different places with different mindsets. It has really helped us diversify our thinking.
“A lot of our judges have been doing it for longer than we’ve been alive. They hold key influential positions in the job market. It is good that we can network with them.”
They are all considering corporate litigation and maybe one day opening a firm together.
“I have wanted to be a lawyer ever since I was young,” said Yasser. “I used to get in trouble a lot when I was in primary school. Thankfully the debate teacher at Dalton E Tucker, Gladstone Thompson, saw my ability to speak and my wanting to talk to individuals and learn more.
“He saw it as a talent instead of disobedience. From there, I became intrigued by careers where I could get up, speak and defend myself. The justice system really appeals to me.”
Sierra got interested in middle school.
“I spent three years in a private school,” she said.
“When I first went, I shut down. I wasn’t me — happy and vibrant. I needed an outlet. I had a voice but could not use it. I wasn’t comfortable standing up for myself in social settings, but in debate I could stand up and argue my points.”
She transferred to Berkeley at age 14.
“Wanting social justice is what attracted me to law,” she said.
Tyrese didn’t consider law until he was 14.
“In one of my first debates, one of the judges was Akilah Beckles. She is an associate in the litigation department at Cox Hallett Wilkinson,” he said.
“She asked me if I wanted to be a lawyer. I said, ‘No, not really.’ She persuaded me to keep on debating.”
Tyrese and Yasser graduate from Berkeley in June and plan to head abroad immediately to continue their studies. Sierra has another year to go.
“I’ll be sad to see them go off,” she said.
Mr Thompson, organiser of the Annual National Schools’ Debate Tournament, has been a debate coach for decades. He often wondered what made some teams stronger than others.
“It’s their bond,” he said. “In training, coaches are often taught to encourage that bond. Taking the team out to pizza might be one way. It lets them get to know one another. That is half the battle right there. Once you know each other intimately, it lends itself to team work.
They would know how to read the nuances of the debate and how to exploit them. Those three minds have to merge as one. They are not supposed to be three strong individuals, they are a team. It is beautiful to watch one mind flowing through three individuals. “
Yasser won the inaugural David J Saul Memorial Shield in the most recent competition.
“Dr Saul was a very staunch believer in debate,” Mr Thompson said. “He was chairman of the Bermuda Debate Society for several years. His family decided they wanted to honour him in this way.”
Yasser said: “I’m thrilled to be the first name on the plaque. In 40 years’ time, maybe I will come back when the last name is put on.”
Sierra was named the third top debater in the senior section after Brianna Correia and Tierrai Tull.
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