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Emerson Debaters Take Top International Honors in Tokyo

professor and students in suits, professional attire stand around a digital message board outside a conference room
Left to right, August Fowle ’24, Jacob Blumenthal ’23, Assistant Professor Deion Hawkins, Simone Tranfaglia ’23, and Aayush Bajpai ’23 at the International Forensics Association’s Speech and Debate Tournament in Tokyo. Courtesy photo

Members of Emerson’s Forensics team were ranked in the top 20 debaters at the International Forensics Association’s Speech and Debate Tournament in Tokyo over spring break, with Writing, Literature and Publishing major August Fowle ’24 placing second overall in public debate.

Joining Fowle was Simone Tranfaglia ’23, Aayush Bajpai’23, a Public Relations major who was ranked in the top 5 percent of all speakers at the tournament, and Jacob Blumenthal ’23, who received a Bronze Medal and placed 12th overall.

“This is a group of students who stayed engaged and consistent through COVID, and it is incredibly exciting to see their hard work, intellect and passion go awarded at the international level,” said Assistant Professor Deion Hawkins, director of Emerson’s debate program.

Blumenthal, a Journalism major, said in the first round, he debated the over-investment in movie sequels and remakes, and finished with a debate over the harms of digital driver’s licenses, but his favorite debate was over whether dating apps devalue human connection. 

Sightseeing in Japan. Left to right, Assistant Professor Sharifa Simon-Roberts, Aayush Bajpai, Simone Tranfaglia, Jacob Blumenthal, Deion Hawkins, and August Fowle. Courtesy photo

“The tournament was the largest we’ve competed at, with 45 debaters present,” said Blumenthal. “Most debaters at internationals have not only been debating since high school, but are also on scholarship for their team. The fact that everyone on our team started debating no earlier than our junior years and do so without receiving scholarships, yet still placed with … medals is an amazing accomplishment.”

The team traveled to Tokyo with Hawkins and Assistant Professor Sharifa Simon-Roberts. When they weren’t debating, the team took a 10-hour tour of the city, where they visited the Imperial Palace, shopped in Harajuku and Shibuya, and went to the largest temple in central Tokyo. They took a jaunt to Mount Fuji, stopped by a fish market, and ate noodles underground, Blumenthal said.

For seniors Blumenthal, Bajpai, and Tranfaglia the IPDA tournament was their last competition before commencement.

“I couldn’t have ended my run with debate any better,” Blumenthal said. “I’ve not only learned a lot about myself and my talents through competition, but through our amazing coach and mentor, Deion Hawkins, as well. College debate has been one of the most valuable experiences of my life!”

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