The Diverse Debaters of DeKalb
Clarkston High students participate in Harvard University debate competition
Three students from DeKalb County School District (DCSD) recently took their talents to one of the most prestigious institutes of learning for the purpose of representing metro Atlanta and displaying their skills in debate.
Clarkston High School seniors Jamillah Badji, Sa’Mya Ivy, and Evanne Casimir were three participants in the Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project (HDCDP), a program headed by Harvard University designed to provide voice to students of color who aspire to become world leaders and social entrepreneurs.
The rigorous and interactive extracurricular program required Badji, Ivy, and Casimir to dedicate countless hours of preparation in critical thinking, research, and debate, while also attending lectures from a Harvard debate instructor. As a result, the Clarkston High trio participated in debate sessions at the Georgia State Capitol, Atlanta City Hall, metro law firms, courtrooms, and more.
The program culminated with a summer residency at Harvard University, where the three students had the opportunity to study in Cambridge, Mass., with other students from the Atlanta area. “The Great Debaters”, the name of the 25 student HDCDP team, have made local and national headlines since performing well and claiming first place at the competition.
Casimir called the experience “exciting and educational.” She hopes that people in metro Atlanta and beyond can appreciate what makes Clarkston special following her interaction with other students. She enjoyed working with students from other schools and school districts and learning what made them unique as well.
“It was something I never thought I would experience,” Casimir said. “The diversity—not only in race but in background as well—makes Clarkston special. We all come from different places. We came together [with students from other districts] and connected through that.”
Ivy said she relished the opportunity to visit Harvard and participate in something outside of the normal school day. She said that Clarkston’s nature of being open-minded, adaptable, and compromising the perfect environment to grow debate team members.
“It’s great to be recognized for it,” Ivy said. “It shows that people are watching when you don’t think they’re watching. Clarkston has something for literally everybody. We don’t have just sports. We don’t have just clubs. We have something for everybody. When it came to working with other students, we came together and learned from one another.”
Badji said she’s grateful for the experience overall and that she’s proud to represent Clarkston High School. She enjoyed learning others’ perspectives and their approach to debate.
“I am very grateful for this experience,” Badji said. “Considering our community, coming from this community, to have the opportunity to do this—it tells people from Clarkston and places like Clarkston that they, too, can do this. Clarkston is so welcoming—it welcomes everyone’s beliefs and everyone’s culture.”
Clarkston principal Pattie Lemelle thinks the three students represented the school, the district and the community well.
“I want to congratulate our students on their achievements,” Lemelle said. “It’s always a great opportunity for our students to travel outside the Clarkston area and have great experiences. I’m looking forward to seeing great things from these young ladies in the future.”
“I just wanted to say, from your superintendent to you, that you make us proud and we appreciate what you’re doing,” said Green. “Debate is a great way to sharpen all of your skills—listening skills, oratorical skills, interaction skills, and writing as well. You all represented us well and were student ambassadors on this momentous occasion.”
Green said the trio represent the best of what DCSD has to offer places like Harvard and beyond.
“They will take the skill of debate—a transferrable skill—into whatever pathway they choose,” Green said. “One is going to the University of Georgia. One is going to the University of Miami. One is going to Emory. The pathway is already set and we look forward to seeing great things from them as they go on to our community. Who knows where you will see them? You may see them on the Senate floor. You may see them at Washington D.C., or debating through community activism. One thing is for sure: you are going to see talented, bright, and extremely young people making this world a better place.”