Willie Hernandez, Chair
Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, Hewlett Packard Enterprise
I grew up in east San Jose where college attendance rates were lower than average for Silicon Valley; in fact, no member of my family had ever attended college. In high school I found debate, and it was through this activity I learned the advocacy skills that would help me navigate a path to college, law school and beyond. These same skills propelled me through a legal career that has led to executive roles at several iconic companies, IBM, Amazon and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. However, the legal community, along with virtually every other profession, continues to lack diversity, and it remains particularly challenging for youth in poorly resourced communities to advance.
SVUDL is uniquely positioned to change this dynamic. They reach students in the right communities who need and deserve access to professional skills learned from debate. They reach the students at the right time in their lives when they are at a turning point in their own lives, ready to consider college and professional careers. They teach the students the right skills – analytical thinking, communication, argument – that will enable them to pave a path to success. I am proud to be a part of the mission that helps these young professionals cross the bridge from high school to a successful career, leveraging these important professional skills taught by SVUDL.
Jennie Savage, Chair Emeritus
Director of Speech and Debate,
Palo Alto Senior High School
My commitment to SVUDL stems from first-hand knowledge of the transformative personal and political power of high school debate. My time as a debater in high school set me on a path to work in public policy, politics, and education for more than 30 years. Through all my professional work - from the Southern Poverty Law Center to the Children's Defense Fund, to Capitol Hill; from Planned Parenthood to Adobe, Inc. to Palo Alto High School - the skills, connections, and confidence I developed in debate made my success possible.
When the chance came to spread debate to the many young people in need, I jumped at the opportunity, having been inspired by the many years of success of Urban Debate Leagues at bettering the lives of thousands of students nationwide. I first served on the founding board of the successful Bay Area UDL in Oakland and served as founding board chair of SVUDL. I'm also actively involved in training and supporting women candidates to run for public office and see debate as a way to build a pipeline of compelling, informed, diverse leaders who have a transnational focus and 21st century thinking skills.
Nadia Arid, Secretary
Associate, IP Litigation, Farella Braun + Martell LLP
Nadia has taken everything debate can teach and leveraged it to enormous personal and professional success. She is excited to share those experiences now as part of the SVUDL Board.
A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Stanford, where she was Community Outreach Director of Derechos, the Latino Pre-Law Society, Nadia earned her JD from Harvard Law in 2016. Her commitment to debate and social justice shine through her academic career, from her work co-founding the Eastside College Prep Debate program, to serving as President for the East Palo Alto Youth Court, to her work as a Ford Foundation Fellow at the National Immigration Center in Los Angeles. She has taught debate to hundreds of young people and has seen time and again how this smart sport can open a mind and change a life.
Leslie M. Spencer, Treasurer
Partner, Ropes & Gray
A nationally recognized speaker, panelist, and author, Leslie is a registered patent attorney and partner in the IP litigation practice at Rope & Gray, where she also co-chairs the firm's diversity committee.
Leslie first learned about SVUDL though its legal career mentor program, and is currently an active mentor. She also serves on the Legal Advisory Committee and sees enormous promise in SVUDL's work to diversify the Legal Career Pipeline.
Prior to practicing law, Leslie worked for financial services and e-commerce companies and supervised the development of a smart card-based secure transaction system.
Matt Abrahams, Board Member
Lecturer, Stanford Graduate School of Business
I believe in the transformative power of communication. I have seen time and time again how learning to confidently tell stories, argue persuasively, and share ideas can fundamentally change how people perceive themselves, affect their friends, families and communities, and influence their work and school. As a high school student, I competed in speech and debate and won first place in California in Original Advocacy. In my undergraduate and graduate studies, I did research into communication and persuasion. I saw firsthand the impact of communication when I worked in high tech in senior leadership roles for software companies. I left high tech for teaching where I began by teaching high school English and Speech while helping coach one of California's largest and most recognized Speech and Debate programs (Leland High School). I then "graduated" to teach Communication at De Anza College for 15 years where I worked with thousands of students from a variety of backgrounds. For the last eight years, I have taught Strategic Communication and Effective Virtual Communication at Stanford's Graduate School of Business. Finally, my book Speaking Up without Freaking Out is in its 3rd edition. I am thrilled to be part of SVUDL!
James F. Basile, Board Member
Partner, Kirkland & Ellis LLP
High school speech and debate changed my life. I came from a blue collar background. My father worked in the Pennsylvania Railroad freight yards and moonlighted as a bartender. But he wanted more for his children. When he saw that our school had a debate program, he insisted (with limited enthusiasm from me) that I try out.
The moment I began to participate, it was like a light switch went on. A world of ideas opened for me. I began to imagine doing things and going places of which I previously hadn't dreamed. I learned essential skills: critical thinking, logic, research, the ability to see both sides of complex issues and how to speak in public. Perhaps more important, speech and debate taught lessons of character: hard work and personal responsibility, delivering on deadlines, working as a team, and learning to compete in pressure situations.
Through all of this, my confidence soared. Moreover, I was surrounded by kids experiencing the same transformation. By swimming in a sea of other awakening young minds, I benefited from their experiences and gifts rubbing off on me through competition, collaborative work and just bull sessions. In this way, social interaction among speech and debate participants leads to geometric growth in skills and understanding. It also creates deep, lifelong friendships.
I went on to college, law school, worked on law review and became a partner at a large national law firm. None of these experiences were as important an educational experience as the cornerstone of high school speech and debate When I see shy, uncertain students blossom into confidence, competence and self-motivation, I think back to how doubting and scared I was when I started, and I marvel at the transformational power of the activity.
It is for these reasons that I feel so strongly about SVUDL and what it can do. Speech and debate - by providing actual portable skills transferable to professions, business and academia - provides a singular opportunity for students to learn to operate effectively within a wide variety of settings and institutions. Having those skills will enable students to fulfill their potential, achieve their aspirations and to work to shape society in accordance with their values.
In short, SVUDL is the best educational chance for kids who are woefully underserved in our society. For just a little output in time and resources, we can change students’ lives for the better and those lives in turn will create ripples of hope and good for their families, for others throughout their community and our country. I hope everyone who reads this will think about that and support SVUDL in its noble task.
John Dawson, Board Member
Dawson Family Fund
I had a fun and successful career in high-tech, then moved most of my work focus to non-profits. Five years ago I invited some Urban Debate League students from the East Bay to present to a small group of prospective donors in Palo Alto. The challenges these young people face go far beyond those of typical Peninsula high school kids, and I was stunned by the impact of debate on their lives. When a young person tells you, a lot of my friends are dead now, and debate is a big reason I'm not, it becomes clear that more is at stake than higher test scores.
Last year I had the opportunity to join the board of a new urban debate league (SVUDL) to fill a big gap, serving youth from Alviso to South San Francisco. I'm on several other boards, and I wasn't looking for more work, but what this organization does is so inspiring I couldn't say no. Anyway, I would have lost the argument :-)
Ellen Ehrenpreis, Board Member
Partner, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe
I am an identical twin who learned early in life the importance of speech and debate during daily negotiations and arguments with my twin sister. Using words effectively to communicate and persuade is a powerful tool. In high school, college and graduate school, I focused keenly on my development as a communicator, paying special attention to skill building around critical thinking, logic, research, organization, vocabulary, problem solving, articulation and empathy. I have no doubt, twenty-six years into my legal career, that the ability to communicate effectively, speak confidently and argue persuasively are among the most valuable early skills I learned. I love that SVUDL seeks to teach kids from low income backgrounds this critical, life-changing skill through the challenging sport of debate and I am honored to serve on the SVUDL board of directors.
Apart from my work with SVUDL, I am a full-time corporate and transactional partner at Orrick in the firm’s Technology Companies Group. I represent technology companies on issues critical to their businesses, including formations, venture financings, governance, M&A transactions, corporate and securities matters, commercial transactions and litigation strategy. I am the founder of the Orrick Scholars Program, co-founder of the Orrick Harvard Law School Fellows Program, co-lead of Orrick’s Israel Initiative and serve in numerous leadership and mentorship roles at the firm. Before joining Orrick, and for many years, I was a litigator and member of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in the firm’s litigation group. In that role and generally as a litigator, I handled high-stakes cases ranging from bet-the-company commercial disputes to IP, employment, securities, proxy and constitutional matters (both at trial and on appeal). I have been an active community volunteer for well more than a decade and have served and continue to serve on a variety of non-profit boards and steering committees in the Silicon Valley community.
Chris Hersey, Board Member
Partner, Ventura, Hersey & Muller LLP
A Silicon Valley native and former CA State Champion in policy debate, Chris knows the power of debate to shape a mind and empower a life. He shares SVUDL's commitment to helping young people unlock their potential and has played a major role in supporting our debaters as they prepare for Moot Court each spring.
Chris has more than 19 years of civil litigation and trial experience, focusing on construction, contract, business, and commercial disputes. Before founding Ventura Rossi Hersey & Muller, LLP in 2013, Chris was a litigation partner for nine years at Miller Morton Caillat & Nevis, LLP in San Jose, CA. He lives with his wife and two high-school aged children in San Jose. Chris is a longtime season ticket holder of the San Jose Earthquakes soccer team, and an amateur astronomer.
Shyam Ravindran, Board Member
Principal, Golden Gate Capital
I am excited to help further SVUDL's growth because I know the impact debate can have on a young person's development. Around the country, urban debate leagues have had tremendous success in providing a positive after-school activity for high school students, activating untapped academic talent by fostering intellectual curiosity, and ultimately providing the foundations for personal success at the collegiate level.
As a Silicon Valley high school debater previously myself, I know how helpful the activity can be. Debate was the experience most responsible for the development of my language, research, structured writing, and public speaking skills. It was vital to my success in college and now my career as a private equity investor. I am grateful for the opportunity to ensure the next generation of Silicon Valley youth have that experience as well.