CDL Alumni Spotlight: Brandon McNamara

Brandon McNamara, former stand-out Harlan debater and current NU undergraduate, recently interned at the Chicago Debate Commission

Going into my sophomore year at Harlan High School, everything was going well, but I knew I wanted more out of my experience there. Classes were interesting and AP courses kept me busy, but I still found myself looking for a way to challenge myself beyond just going through the standard curriculum. Being quiet and somewhat reserved at the time, I imagined debate to be the last activity that I would find any sort of success in.

My coach, Robert Pincham, had invited me to attend the CDSI during the summer since I had taken an AP course with him the year before, but I knew nothing about the activity so I quickly refused. Debate was a new activity at Harlan that year and I figured that I owed it to Mr. Pincham to at least check out the introductory meeting of the team. After doing a few odd speaking drills, I felt apprehensive to continue with the team, but I figured that I would make my decision after debating at a few tournaments.

Things were rough at first- it took me a while to completely grasp the basic structure of the activity, and I had a different partner almost every tournament until the fourth tournament of my first year- but I quickly learned that I had completely misjudged how much I could gain from debate. The public speaking aspect took a backseat to the leadership, team interaction and research skills I was picking up from the activity. Debate motivated me to keep focused both within the activity and in my classes and allowed me to interact with other students across the city I would never have had the chance to meet otherwise.

After a semifinal closeout victory at my team’s fourth tournament, and a few speaker awards before that, I was completely sure that debate was an activity that I wanted to devote my time to. The physical awards for my hard work were great, but the experience I gained benefited me equally as much and gave me reason to continue with the team. Debate grew to be even more rewarding from there, as I got the chance to meet many great people and get invaluable personal skills that I strongly doubt I would’ve been able to attain through simply working within the standard curriculum at my high school. I spent the two summers following my first year of debate at Northwestern’s Coon-Hardy Debate Institute, and led my team as captain through my senior year.

All of this definitely contributed to my decision to attend Northwestern University as an undergraduate now, and helped me to win the QuestBridge National College Match Scholarship to be here without a large debt. As a sophomore majoring in political science and communications, I have no doubt that debate played a vital role in shaping the person that I am now. As I move forward, I still reflect on the lessons I’ve learned through debate and utilize those lessons in everything that I do.

I still work with debate, both as a judge and also with the Chicago Debate Commission, as an intern this past summer. I hope to help make debate as rewarding an experience for current debaters as it was for me in high school.