Moot Court Debater of the Week: Bhargavi Bhatt

Bhargavi Bhatt is a senior at Silver Creek High School who dreams of a life with purpose. She credits debate with giving her "a platform where I could express myself...through articulated discussion" because "you need to really think through your arguments and how to persuade people to believe you."

Debate hasn't just sharpened Bhargavi's argumentation skills. As she puts it, it has helped focus her on "what can I do with the skills I have that can benefit the most people?" That's why she'll be pursing engineering or economics when she starts college this fall and has set her sights on being in the Peace Corps someday.

Participating in Moot Court is fast becoming one of Bhargavi's SVUDL highlights. This experience gives her the chance to voice what she thinks is right AND the opportunity to spend time empathizing with the other side of the issue. She's learning to see through different eyes, thoughtfully take on that role, and grow.

On May 1st Bhargavi will take these talents, skills, and hard work into the Moot Court to argue transgender rights, but after graduation she'll apply them to everything she pursues. Her Government teacher has posted the famous Don Hertzfeldt quote on the door to the classroom: "It's okay to be worried. It's okay to be sad. It's not okay to give up. There's a lot of work to do." This is the line Bhargavi holds in her heart as she plans for the future, armed with fierce public speaking skills and the courage to go after what she believes in. Congratulations, Bhargavi, on being this week's Debater of the Week!

Correction: an earlier version of this post ran with a picture of Gaganpreet Kaur. 

Moot Court Debater of the Week: Esme Cordova


Six rising SVUDL stars will argue before sitting 9th Circuit judges at the 2nd Annual Moot Court on May 1. This event gives our top debaters the chance to significantly advance critical thinking, argumentation, and public speaking skills. The students are already spending hours building the case around an issue the US Supreme Court is expected to rule on days after this event. As part of the lead-up to Moot Court, we're dedicating the next few Debater of the Week profiles to Moot Court debaters. This special series launches now with Esme Cordova!

Esme is a Junior and 2nd year debater at East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy. Esme and her partner Nyisha have worked well together since their first competition, earning fifth place at that event. Esme, however, isn't one to talk about her accomplishments in terms of places and wins, preferring the more substantial measure of personal development. "One of the biggest that I learned to be more open-minded. Being in debate opens up your mind.

Esme and debate partner Nyisha

Esme and debate partner Nyisha

Esme also credits debate with helping her build confidence. "Before, I was afraid to talk in front of people. Since I have debated I lost the fear of talking in front of people and I feel more confident in myself. "

While many debaters are excited about pursuing a career in law after college, Esme plans on a double major in medicine and business, knowing she can take what she has accomplished in debate and apply it to her studies across disciplines. Feeling confident to speak up and defend your ideas, welcoming other's ideas, and nurturing a hunger to learn are all critical aspects of being successful no matter what you pursue, and Esme has developed these traits in debate. This is why she strongly recommends joining debate to her peers. Her success in tournaments is just the beginning, but holds a tantalizing preview of how well she will do at Moot Court. Congratulations Esme on being this week's Debater of the Week!


Debater of the Week: Samiya Ali

As a freshman at Oak Grove high school, Samiya Ali's debate career is full of potential. Just a few months in, she had already grown a tremendous amount and self proclaims: she's hooked.

While she might be fresh to the debate team, Samiya has been hearing about it for years at the dinner table. "Debate at Oak Grove is a family thing--my older brother (Zak, winner of last year's Final Tournament) did it when he was in high school and my older sister is currently the captain of the team!" Initially, Samiya joined debate at the urging of her siblings and because it would look good on college applications. She has stayed in debate because of the unique opportunity SVUDL provides to voice her thoughts and opinions and learn new things. She recently took on the role of Media Organizer for her team, where she will combine her passions for art and talking into the work of building and managing her team's social media presence. She has already begun digital drawings for her team.

Samiya's most recent team artwork

Samiya's most recent team artwork

Samiya loves how researching policy topics has catalyzed learning about things she never knew existed, "like human rights issues in China--my eyes were opened, I didn't know all these problems were going on." She especially loves the opportunity to research, explore, and build skills at SVUDL workshops. Samiya describes these workshops fondly, reflecting on how many friends she has made during them. Armed with a passion to speak, solid research, and an army of friends and mentors from SVUDL, there's no doubt that Samiya is off to an amazing start as a debater. With 3.5 years of debate ahead of her, the sky's the limit!

When asked what advice she has for shy students thinking about trying debate out, she confidently says, "be strong, your voice matters."

We couldn't have said it better ourselves. Congratulations, Samiya, on being this week's Debater of the Week!

Debater of the Week: Angie Guzman

Meet Angie Guzman, a Senior at Mt. Pleasant High School- policy debater, activist, and future lawyer. Although she's only gotten seriously into debate this school year, she's already dominating. Angie is one of those students with a natural love of public speaking, knowing only in theory the jitters that most of us feel when addressing a crowd. When Angie is standing in front of an audience, she thrives on the energy of the group and can easily deliver inspiring, articulate, and thoughtful oratory off the cuff.

This is probably why she's known for a long time that being a lawyer, and hopefully someday a judge, is her dream. However, debating successfully in tournaments hasn't always come naturally for Angie the way general public speaking does. In fact, her favorite SVUDL moment was when she lost every single round in a policy tournament. As Angie puts it, "I didn't feel like I lost everything, I felt like I gained everything" because she learned so much through reflecting on her mistakes and growing from the experience, demonstrating the grit and resilience urban debate helps young people cultivate.

Outside of debate, Angie is passionate about social justice issues and equality, writes poems (she will have three pieces published in her high school's upcoming literary publication), and enjoys math. As she looks into her future, she credits SVUDL with helping her create a clear picture of what she wants to achieve. Through conversations with her mentor, Leslie Spencer from Ropes & Gray in Palo Alto, Angie has refined and focused her dreams of being a lawyer, judge and advocate. We have no doubt that she will execute beautifully on that vision. Congratulations, Angie, on being SVUDL's Debater of the Week!


'Tis the season...for debate!

The Aaron Thomas Invitational this past Saturday was a stirring tournament held in honor of an urban debater from Kansas who made his mark in the community. 

Seventy SVUDL students came together at Woodside HS for three rounds of policy debate. With nearly a full semester with the current topic under their belts, teams have shown remarkable increases in understanding nuances of arguments and sophistication in their critical thinking. Each and every debater has moved forward on their debate path, and we are so proud of their hard work and growth.

We broke exciting new ground, with our first-ever school sweep of a Division- Woodside in the novice division! We also had our first tie- partners Kim and Abigail from Silver Creek not only took home the top Varsity team prize, but they tied for the Top Speaker award in that division as well! Full results are below, but it's not just about the trophies; it's about how far SVUDL students have come, and how much they're continuing to grow!

Novice Speaker Awards
1st place, Ashley from Woodside
2nd place, Evan from Woodside
3rd place, Victor from Woodside

Novice Team Awards
1st place, Amelia and Ashley from Woodside
2nd place, Danny and Emma from Woodside
3rd place, Hope and Evan from Woodside

JV Speaker Awards
1st place, Mia from Woodside
2nd place, Nisa from Woodside
3rd place, Susie from Silver Creek

JV Team Awards
1st place, Mia and Nisa from Woodside
2nd place, Gaganpreet and Susie from Silver Creek
3rd place, Daniela and Nick from Woodside

Varsity Speaker Awards
1st place (tie), Kim and Abigail from Silver Creek
3rd place, Kierra from EPAPA

Varsity Team Awards
1st place, Kim and Abigail from Silver Creek
2nd place, Kierra and Blanca from EPAPA
3rd place, Denise and Ashna from Silver Creek

Aaron Thomas was an urban debater from the Kansas City area who truly made his mark on the UDL community. He debated with the Debate Kansas City UDL and went on to judge and teach at urban debate events throughout the country. Well-liked and respected in the community, he was killed in a car accident in January 2015 at 24 years of age. UDLs around the country hold tournaments and events to honor the memory of this remarkable young man and SVUDL is honored to be part of that movement. 


Legal Pipeline Challenge enters its final days!


With just under two days to go, we are truly humbled and inspired by the outpouring of support from the Silicon Valley legal community! We're nearly 70% of the way to our goal, fueled by sixteen firms whose commitment to diversifying the legal career pipeline goes deep. 

No career pathway is more popular among urban debaters than law. Through debate, students get hooked on reasoned argument and research- 65% of SVUDL students plan to pursue legal careers. Through debate, students who once struggled to read learn to prepare policy briefs drawn from law reviews, academic articles, and expert testimony. 

There are two days left in our campaign to raise funds to support our mission and recruit legal career mentors to support our students. Join us now!