CDL Debaters Make Their Mark at Aspen Ideas Festival

Two recent CDL alums were selected to take part in a public debate, underwritten by the CDL’s Premier Sponsor, Allstate, at the prestigious 2011 Aspen Ideas Festival.

Josh Rivera, a recent graduate of Lane Tech and recipient of a full debate scholarship to Southern Illinois University, and Muriel Dorsey, a Prosser Career Academy alum who recently completed her freshman year as a scholarship debater at Illinois State University, were the youngest speakers at this influential conference of academic, media, political, and business elites from across the country. Their public debate was titled “From Argument to Advocacy—Delivering Academic Success Through Urban Debate,” a part of the “Learning Landscape” track at this year’s Aspen Ideas Festival, and was moderated by former debater and current contributing editor Hanna Rosin of The Atlantic, the media company that organizes the Aspen Ideas Festival with the Aspen Institute. Hanna Rosin, as it happens, was in a lab group led by Les Lynn, at the University of Michigan Debate Institute in the late 1980s. The debaters were introduced and joined on-stage for a question and answer session by Michele Coleman Mayes, Executive Vice President and General Counsel at Allstate Insurance Company, who presented a powerful case for the impact of urban debate in creating opportunities for successful academic outcomes and professional careers.

The topic for the debate was “Resolved: that the United States should provide military aid to opposition groups in order to promote democracy in the Middle East,” a timely discussion that touched upon several of the foreign policy issues being discussed in other sessions at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Josh and Muriel debated in front of a large audience, which included retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and also Justice Stephen Breyer of the Supreme Court, who complimented their performance and gave the students feedback on their advocacy.

Josh Rivera said about the conference, “The Aspen Ideas Festival was an extraordinary experience. It was wonderful to see the presence of urban debate amongst top thinkers in the country.”

Josh and Muriel had the opportunity to meet and converse with many of the luminaries during the Festival, including Iraq diplomat Paul Bremer and former Federal Reserve Board Chair Alan Greenspan. Other highlights of the Aspen trip included taking part in several conference sessions ranging from foreign policy to electoral politics to philosophy to psychology and a special by-invite dinner hosted by Allstate CEO Tom Wilson where the students and CDC Assistant Director of Programming David Song interacted with some of the leading names at the festival, including government leaders, business executives, and well-known writers and scholars.

For Muriel, “attending the Aspen Ideas Festival was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To be in midst of political leaders, pioneers in academia, CEOs and have the privilege to engage in in-depth conversation about world events with them seemed surreal.”

General Counsel Mayes concluded that “Allstate was proud to feature students from the Chicago Debate League in a debate at the Aspen Ideas Festival. The academic excellence and personal accomplishment demonstrated by Josh Rivera and Muriel Dorsey – both recipients of college debate scholarships, is compelling proof of what is made possible by the partnership Allstate enjoys as a CDL sponsor. We hope that other corporations decide to sponsor urban debate to allow even more students to flourish the way that Josh and Muriel have.”