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Speech & Debate Team Snags International Success in Dublin

Standing in front of an Ireland hillside is Kayla Armbruster, Olivia DeCesare, Stella Del Tergo, Deion Hawkins, and Braelyn Spitler
Left to right: Kayla Armbruster ’25, Olivia DeCesare ’26, Stella Del Tergo ’25, Debate Team Director Deion Hawkins, and Braelyn Spitler ’25. Team member August Fowle ’24 is not in the photo. Courtesy photo

Political Communications major Stella Del Tergo ’25 made history when she was the first Emerson student to be in the finals of an international speech event in more than 25 years.

Like Del Tergo, all four of her teammates placed in the top 20 percent of their respective events at the International Forensics Association (IFA) tournament in Dublin, Ireland, during the March break.

Del Tergo placed sixth in Informative Speaking, and said a key element to her success was that her topic – the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) and their work in promoting lost cause ideology – was not a common topic heard by the judges.

“After the American Civil War, many white Southern women created women’s groups. In 1894, two Southern women decided to join ‘all women’s societies into one grand united society,’ founding the UDC. Within three years, they had 189 chapters,” said Del Tergo.

These women primarily raised money to erect between 500 and 700 confederate monuments across the American South, as well as for educational curricula that taught that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights (vs. slavery) and that slavery was a mutually beneficial system, Del Tergo explained.

A list of topics for debate at the tournament
A range of topics debated at the IFA tournament in Dublin, Ireland.

Braelyn Spitler ’25 also made history and became one of the only novices at the tournament to advance, placing 13th overall.

Deion Hawkins, Assistant Professor of Argumentation & Advocacy and Director of Emerson’s Debate Team, said Spitler’s showing is remarkable, because most competitors have had years of high school and/or collegiate experience.

“It is my first year on the team with zero prior experience in any form of debate,” said Spitler. “So, it was cool to see my hard work this past year show through with my placement in the competition. Especially considering [I placed] 13th overall in an international competition with roughly 100 participants in the category I was in!”

August Fowle ’24 continued his success from last season, placing in the top 30 in the world, beating more than 75 debaters, said Hawkins. Hawkins also credited Kayla Armbruster ’25 and Olivia Descesare ’26 with playing invaluable roles throughout the season and the tournament 

“This team continues to grow on the legacy of oratory and critical thinking at Emerson College and the Department of Communication Studies,” said Hawkins. “Last year, we had historic success in debate, but now, we also have historic accomplishments in speech. Emerson College can officially say that our team has placed two students in the top ten in the world in speech and debate. We should be incredibly proud of this accomplishment.” 

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