2019 Words to the Wise event sponsor and Legal Advisory Committee Member Matthew Irwin, Associate General Counsel, Gap, Inc.

I did not participate in debate or moot court in high school, college or law school, and as I reflect, I think it would have been incredibly beneficial for me to have had this experience. 

Through my involvement with SVUDL, I have had the pleasure of observing firsthand how influential debate can be in accelerating a student’s growth and development. Debate promotes strong communication skills, the ability to think and speak “on your feet” as well as self-confidence, which, as I’ve learned during my career and life in general, are invaluable attributes to possess. 

I think it is great that SVUDL provides young people with these opportunities when they are in high school, which based on my own life experience was right about the time that having these “soft skill gifts” would have emboldened me even more as I approached going to college and transitioning into young adulthood. 

Thank You to Our Words to the Wise Bronze Sponsor, Gap, Inc.!


2019 Words to the Wise Sponsor & Legal Advisory Committee Member, Christophe Mosby

Christophe Mosby, Associate General Counsel, HP Inc., SVUDL Legal Advisory Committee Member and 2019 Words to the Wise Sponsor, talks to us about the foundations of debate and why he’s so passionate about supporting SVUDL. “It’s the opportunities that SVUDL affords students that is so inspiring: to hear a judge from the 9th circuit say to SVUDL students that you’ve done better than some of the attorneys that have come before you in actual arguments, and you are in high school is something the students take great pride in. It lets them see what they can accomplish that they might not have contemplated before: at its core, SVUDL is about exposure, and being able to see themselves in different circles in the future.”

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2019 Words to the Wise Sponsor and Legal Advisory Committee Member, Bryson Santaguida

Bryson Santaguida, Product Counsel at Google and SVUDL Legal Advisory Committee member, reveals how debate lit a competitive fire in him at school that changed his life. “I wasn’t a super serious student, perhaps slightly above average. [My teacher] He told me that if I could find a debate partner, then I would earn extra credit and get an A in the class. I agreed to do it and found a friend who was in a similar situation. We went and lost every single round. But the experience lit a spark where we were instantly hooked on the competitive aspect of it.”

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2019 Words to the Wise Interview with Sponsor and Board Member, Leslie M. Spencer

2019 Words to the Wise Interview with Sponsor and Board Member, Leslie M. Spencer

Leslie M. Spencer, SVUDL Board member, Partner Ropes & Gray and 2019 Words to the Wise sponsor, talks about the importance of diversity in debate and having professional champions. “As a woman of color, I am fully aware of the challenges that our students may face in terms of access to resources and opportunities for personal agency and professional success. Without question, having personal and professional champions is the biggest factor in achieving such successes. The mission of SVUDL is to empower Silicon Valley students, regardless of their race or socioeconomic status, to reach their full potential to become professional and community leaders.”

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2019 Words to the Wise Interview with Sponsor & Board Member, James F. Basile

2019 Words to the Wise Interview with Sponsor & Board Member, James F. Basile

James Basile - SVUDL Board Member and Words to the Wise Platinum Sponsor - talks about the power of debate.
"One of the largest problems facing our nation and Silicon Valley is increasing inequality. High school debate, especially for the students SVUDL serves, is one of the most powerful tools to battle inequality." - James F. Basile, SVUDL Board Member and Partner, Kirkland & Ellis LLP

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Hamilton Actors Bring the Art of Performance to our Summer Debate Institute

Hamilton Actors Bring the Art of Performance to our Summer Debate Institute

Congratulations to everyone who took part in our 2019 Summer Debate Institute from July 22-26. Thank you to our debate coaches, Yerba Buena High School in San Jose, and the fabulous stars from San Francisco’s Hamilton who inspired, challenged, and delighted participants across this week-long debate workshop. KQED covered day one of our Summer Debate Institute and got the inside track from the stars tars on how performing and debating share the same skills.

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SVUDL Welcomes Lucia Hernandez to the Team!

Santalucia Hernandez, best known as Lucia, is a perfect addition to the SVUDL team. Hailing from the South Side of Chicago, Lucia exemplifies the long-term, positive impacts of participating in high school debate programs.

A product of the Chicago public school system, Lucia became a first-generation college student at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. She established the seventeenth chapter of a Latina service-based sorority, Gamma Alpha Omega, where she mentored other first-generation college students and helped host two conferences aimed at addressing and educating students and the Madison community about Latina issues.

Upon completing a B.A. in International Studies and Chicana/Latina Studies, Lucia started her nonprofit career at Gads Hill Center, followed by WES Health System where she ran youth development programs for both organizations.

In June of 2016 she joined the Chicago Debates team where she helped create an engaging debate experience for schools, coaches, and most importantly, youth.

Debate changed the trajectory of Lucia’s life and she is blessed to have the opportunity to shape the Silicon Valley Urban Debate Leagues’ policies and programming, ensuring the next generation has that same experience.

When Lucia is not running tournaments or supporting schools, she loves volunteering and getting together with her family for dinner and games.

Welcome Lucia!


Orrick Helps SVUDL Students Hone Their Interviewing Skills

SVUDL students picked up some skills for life at a recent interview workshop at Orrick in Menlo Park. Thanks to our SVUDL Board Member and Orrick Partner Ellen Ehrenpreis, and her team, for sharing some expert tips and how to stand out in an interview! http://ow.ly/8pJl50vn8XM

In July, SVUDL students and staff attended a workshop at Orrick in Menlo Park, led by SVUDL Board Member and Orrick Partner Ellen Ehrenpreis, Recruiting Manager Michelle Lockhart, Associate Kristina Pham, and a number of summer law associates.

The Orrick team helped SVUDL students begin to build their skills for interviewing.  The time and effort spent in this workshop will further prepare the students for upcoming opportunities as they apply to college, scholarships, and ultimately future jobs. 

Using an assets-based approach, students learned how to authentically share their personal experiences in order to make themselves stronger candidates and to help them stand out even more to those conducting the interviews. 

Each student was able to spend one-on-one time with a summer law associate to dive deeper into what interview situations actually look and feel like, and to practice how the students can best share and communicate their personal stories.

Thank you to the Orrick team for giving their expertise and time. This tremendous effort will bear fruit for years to come!

Volunteers Needed to Judge Summer Debate Institute Tournament on Friday, July 26 

We are seeking volunteers to judge our debate tournament for the final day of our Summer Debate Institute on Friday, July 26. No previous experience required as we will provide training for volunteer judges. Here is the current working schedule for the tournament:

Time                                       Event

9:00am-9:30am                   Breakfast & Morning Announcements

9:45am                                   Round 1 Pairings

10:00am -12 pm                    Round 1

12:00pm-1:00pm                  Lunch & Novice Debrief

1:15pm                                   Round 2 Pairings

1:30pm-3:30pm                    Round 2

3:30pm-4:00pm                    Snack Break

3:45pm                                   Round 3 Pairings

4:00pm-6:00pm                    Round 3

6:00pm-7:00pm                    Dinner, Awards, Camp Wrap Up!

If you are available to judge one or more rounds, please sign up at https://www.svudl.org/volunteer/

Legal Advisory Committee Member Eric Lancaster Hosts SVUDL Students for Research Workshop at White & Case in Silicon Valley

In June, SVUDL students and staff attended a research workshop at White and Case in Palo Alto, led by Senior Researcher Joyce Bang, partner and current SVUDL Legal Advisory Committee member Eric Lancaster, Associate Hallie Kiernan, and several summer law associates. 

Using next year's national high school policy debate topic of arms sales as a foundation, the White and Case team showed SVUDL students and coaches best practices on how to effectively leverage the LexisNexis platform to find timely, relevant, and credible sources of information.  The students honed their skills searching for information on items like foreign military sales and direct commercial sales of arms. They also explored free online resources to augment the arguments they will be making during the next debate season.

The group also had the opportunity to meet special guest speaker Josh Becker.  Josh talked about his experiences as a lawyer, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and prospective state senator. He shared how his experiences as a debater in high school helped build valuable, lifelong skills such as critical thinking, extemporaneous speaking, and collaboration that were all vital to his career paths. 

Josh talked about the value of taking risks and learning from challenges and failures. He conveyed how he applies those specific skills to advance his specific passions, including improving the state's education and transportation systems, and the need to address climate change.

Thank you to the White and Case team for sharing their expertise.  This support will strengthen all of our students to become leaders and help to shift expectations of what low-income youth can achieve.

Introducing new Legal Advisory Committee Member Yesenia Villaseñor

SVUDL is proud to announce that Yesenia Villaseñor, Tesla’s Managing Environmental, Health & Safety Counsel, will be joining our Legal Advisory Committee.

Ms. Villaseñor previously worked as an EHS Attorney for Exelon Corporation and with Caterpillar.  She began her legal career as an associate at the law firm of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP.

Ms. Villaseñor graduated from Chicago-Kent Law School and earned her MS in Environmental Management from the Stuart School of Business. Prior to moving to California to work for Tesla, she served as a volunteer and pro-bono attorney for organizations including the National Immigrant Justice Center. 

Ms. Villaseñor also served on the board of the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois and co-chaired the JD Mentors Program. She has received numerous recognitions for her pro bono work including a 2010 award for Excellence in Pro Bono from the Northern District of Illinois and the Chicago Chapter of the Federal Bar Association in a child abduction case under The Hague Convention.

Ms. Villaseñor is passionate about the subject of climate change and environmental sustainability. In 2009, she was selected to join the Climate Reality Project, an organization founded and chaired by former Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore. The Climate Reality Project is dedicated to unleashing a global cultural movement demanding action on the climate crisis and includes volunteers from around the world.  Yesenia provides free presentations on the issue of climate change:  audiences have included middle & high school students at various schools, the FBI Chicago Office and U.S. EPA Region V as part of Hispanic heritage month.  

Ms. Villaseñor is a mother, world-traveler and an advocate for judicial, ethnic and socio-economic justice. Her accomplishments range from achieving asylum relief for a tortured West African political refugee to assisting Central American children facing deportation. 

We look forward to partnering with Yesenia Villaseñor as we bring together leaders from the Silicon Valley legal community to help students realize their dreams of becoming successful lawyers. 



Introducing new Legal Advisory Committee Member Shayne O’Reilly

SVUDL is pleased to announce that Shayne O’Reilly will be joining our Legal Advisory Committee on behalf of Facebook.  Shayne is the Associate General Counsel for Intellectual Property Litigation where he manages domestic and international intellectual property litigation matters.

Shayne’s clear understanding of our mission along with his passion for providing access to professional careers and environments makes him a perfect addition to our team.

Prior to Facebook, Shayne worked for Kilpatrick, Townsend & Stockton where his practice focused on intellectual property law, with a primary focus on patent litigation, client counseling, technology transactions, and other related matters. 

Shayne is a registered patent attorney. He earned his Bachelor of Science from North Carolina A&T State University and his JD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law.

Together, we look forward to changing outcomes for underserved youth.  Welcome to the team, Shayne!

Introducing New SVUDL Board Member Ellen Ehrenpreis

Ellen Ehrenpreis has a passion for working with companies making an impact in the world. 

A partner in the Silicon Valley office of Orrick, Ellen has devoted substantial time and effort over many years serving on boards of directors and in pivotal roles for nonprofit organizations. 

Now she is bringing her dedication to the SVUDL community!

Ellen’s background is a perfect fit for our team.  She has spent more than twenty years in the tech and venture ecosystem and leverages her broad network and deep understanding of both the tech sector and legal landscape to effectively and strategically advise emerging companies and investors on a wide range of critical needs. She advises companies and founders on formation, venture financings, governance, M&A transactions, corporate and securities matters, commercial transactions and litigation strategy. 

Ellen has represented both private and public companies and has worked with small startups and large multinational enterprises, as well as the executives, investors and advisors involved in those businesses.  Ellen also works closely with some of the leading venture capital and growth equity firms, whose principals she advises in connection with financings, equity structuring and corporate governance. 

Her clients have included companies in the semiconductor, SAAS, renewables, fintech, aerospace, digital retail, online sharing, biotech/biopharma, media, design and data analytics fields, among others. 

Prior to Orrick, Ellen was a member of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and a co-founder of Edgewood Law Partners LLP.  Ellen is also a former competitive figure skater, a devoted wife and the mother of three teenage children.

We look forward to collaborating with Ellen to help our students tap the power of their voices to compete, excel and change the world through the rigor and thrill of the academic sport of debate.

SVUDL Visited Law Foundation of Silicon Valley for a glimpse into different forms of innovative legal advocacy as tools for social change.. Thanks to our friends at the Law Foundation for hosting us!

On Monday, May 13th, SVUDL students visited the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley for a look into the world of law.

Guided by Elizabeth Wells, a Senior Attorney at the Law Foundation, students learned about potential applications for the skills they have acquired throughout school and debate life. The Law Foundation uses the law as a tool for change in matters dealing with housing, children and youth, or physical and mental health, to ensure everyone has access to opportunities regardless of their circumstances.

During the visit, students also traveled to downtown San Jose’s Family Justice Center Courthouse to meet with one of the judges: Jose S. Franco. Once inside students engaged in a question and answer discussion with Judge Franco, learning about his journey from law school to his acquisition of judge status for the Family Justice Center.

After the courthouse visit concluded, students returned to the Law Foundation’s office to complete the day. For the remainder of the time students networked with other members of the Law Foundation team, discussing topics including law, careers, and debate.

SVUDL students and staff enjoying the visit to Judge Franco’s classroom.

SVUDL students and staff enjoying the visit to Judge Franco’s classroom.

Judge Franco shares some of his past experiences and stories with SVUDL student and staff.

Judge Franco shares some of his past experiences and stories with SVUDL student and staff.

A SVUDL student dresses in Judge Francos’ black robes and sits from his bench. During the visit to the courthouse, SVUDL members were able to learn more about the inner workings of a courthouse and the world of judges.

A SVUDL student dresses in Judge Francos’ black robes and sits from his bench. During the visit to the courthouse, SVUDL members were able to learn more about the inner workings of a courthouse and the world of judges.

Students learn about the Law Foundation’s mission and work in the community pertaining to issues around housing, mental health, and education issues in Silicon Valley.

Students learn about the Law Foundation’s mission and work in the community pertaining to issues around housing, mental health, and education issues in Silicon Valley.

A student networking with Law Foundation staff following the visit to the courthouse.

A student networking with Law Foundation staff following the visit to the courthouse.


Four SVUDL Teams to Compete in the National Catholic Forensic League Grand National Tournament

For the first time, SVUDL is sending four teams to compete in the National Catholic Forensic League Grand National Tournament. This year’s tournament will take place over Memorial Day Weekend in Milwaukee and here are the students representing SVUDL:

Silver Creek High School, San Jose

Team 1: Jasleen Randhawa & Daksh Jain

Team 2: Loveleen Randhawa & Gaganpreet Kaur

Head Coach: Jimi Morales

Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School, San Jose

Sofia Funk & Rachel Stattion

Head Coach: Rob Burns

Downtown College Prep El Primero Campus, San Jose

Christopher McGinnis & Addis Arciniega

Head Coach: Rob Burns