Grade 11 student debater Hao has had quite a year! This world-class debater has attended many of the big competitions (alongside her debate partner Elizabeth): the Western University High School Debate Tournament, the National British Parliamentary Championships, the Provincial Debating Championships and even the prestigious Cambridge Schools Debate Finals Competition, where the duo placed 22nd out of 64 teams. Now, a long-held dream for Hao is finally coming true: Hao has been selected to join the Canadian National Debate Team. This is an exceptional accomplishment; Hao is the first Branksome student since 2016 to have reached the highest level of high school debating.
Hao and two other students were selected out of 23 applicants in Ontario to try out for the National Team. That selection was based on her top 10 results and her ability to work as part of a team. At the national tryout, Hao had to compete for six rounds stretched over three days, with competitors from all over Canada, as well as go through an interview process.
“It's probably the fiercest competition Hao has faced,” said Debate Coach Grace Nolan. “Since 2010, the Canadian National Debate team has won the World Schools Debate Championships three times and were runners-up an additional three times.”
We sat down with Hao to ask her about the tryout process, the way she prepared and what she is looking forward to.
Q: From a debating skills point of view, how did you prepare for the tryout for the Canadian National Debate Team?
A: I feel that the accumulation of everything I did since I started debating was really what prepared me for the tryouts. I did a lot of classes, watched a lot of debate videos, and I also did a lot of work to improve on my own. Like I have this Google drive folder where I keep all the notes I have acquired from reading news articles, all my self-reflection journals about my improvement in each tournament, and the feedback I get from my judges. I guess the preparation I did specifically for the tryout was that I increased the amount of articles that I read a day and also watched more debate rounds than usual. But I don't think that made a significant difference because, at the end of the day, it was the micro-improvements I had made since I started debating that compounded to make me who I am today. I couldn’t have improved so much without the support from the coaches at Branksome and my parents. They believed I could do it before I even believed in myself. They always had words of encouragement, valuable opportunities and advice to share with me. I owe it to them because without them, my passion for debate would never have developed to be this strong.
Q: How did you feel leading up to the tryout?
A: Initially, I wasn’t that scared because I felt like I still had some time before the tryouts began, but once the tryout was just one week away, I started getting really uneasy. I had a very bad mentality in which I could not convince myself that I could get in. And I knew that if I didn’t fix my mentality before the tryouts, I would fail. So I approached Ms. Nolan a day before tryouts to ask for some advice and she introduced me to Ms. Blyth, the Learning Strategies Advisor, who taught me many valuable tips for overcoming negative emotions, like anxiety and stress. It was really helpful in calming me down, which then allowed me to better rationalize my emotions and to be more confident in myself. Mentality is so incredibly important because what you believe will determine how you act, how you perform and what you learn. Whatever your goal might be, you have to genuinely believe you can achieve it before you start pursuing it. This experience really taught me how to trust in myself. Of course, I was still somewhat stressed out during the tryouts, but it was much more manageable. In fact, I actually think participating in the tryouts made me less focused on getting good results and instead, to be more appreciative of the process itself.
Q: What kind of questions did they ask you in the interview process?
A: Some of the questions in the interview were quite difficult, such as hypothetical questions like: “There are two debaters, one is very talented but undisciplined, another debater is…. which of these two teammates would you choose?”, “What is your largest concern about Team Canada?”, “What is your largest contribution if you can get on Team Canada?”, and “Which person in the public sphere do you really look up to?” I found these quite challenging because, not only were they asked on the spot—giving you no time to prepare—but also because the questions were intentionally curated in a way that would unveil a lot about who you are as a person, your values, your knowledge about global affairs and your self-perception; so the stakes were pretty high.
However, although the interview was important, the tryout as a whole is a pretty holistic process. From what I heard, they also looked at your results in the tryout, how you contribute in the prep rooms, and how you interact with other teammates. So it was pretty reassuring to know that the interview wasn’t the only thing they considered.
Q: Since Grade 10, you have always debated with fellow Branksome student, Elizabeth. At this tryout, you had to have different partners. Was it different competing with someone other than your regular partner?
A: It was a very unique experience because they all had very different debate strategies, but also because they all tackled debate motions in a different way than what I was accustomed to in the Ontario debate circuit. I appreciated that experience because it showed me a diverse range of debate styles and strategies, as well as new and unique perspectives that I haven’t ever considered before.The second thing is that it taught me to be more flexible and collaborative. This is because I would need to take on different responsibilities from round to round depending on who my partners were, which taught me to be more flexible.
Q: It was a three-year process and you're finally part of Team Canada’s national debate team. What are you most excited about?
A: Firstly, just the fact that you’re debating with and against the strongest debaters, not only in Canada, but also across the world. With that opportunity, I’ll be better able to improve myself by learning from my peers. I am also really excited to be able to develop strong and meaningful relationships with each of them throughout that process. Additionally, in the summer of next year, Team Canada will be competing at the Worlds Schools Debate Champions, the most prestigious high school debate tournament in the world. After three years of online debating, it will finally be held in-person in Macau next year. I have never been to Macau, so hopefully, I’ll get to go with Team Canada next year to tour the country and make more friends.
We are all extremely proud of Hao and her hard work and will be following her progress on Team Canada.