If you’re looking to get into an argument with someone, make sure it’s not with Tracy Nowski from St. Clement’s School in North Toronto. The Grade 12 student recently became the first woman to place second in the World Individual Debating and Public Speaking Championships on March 30.
The event took place at Queen Anne’s school in Reading, England, calling on public speakers 16 years or older from English speaking high schools around the world. Nowski placed third last year, tying the previous record for a female competitor at the competition. Nowski was the only female competitor in the grand final this year.
"In all the years that I’ve been at the tournament I’ve never seen a girl in the grand final debate," said Nowski. "I did feel like I was representing something new. I felt like I had something to prove to myself, not so much like I had anything to prove to the audience, but that was something that was very meaningful for me."
But making it to the grand final was something that Nowski had on her mind long before she left for England, and she knew she could do it.
"It was a tangible goal," said Nowski. "It was something that I knew I had set for myself, and to reach that for me was definitely the best part of the tournament. Having that feeling that this was something that I concretely said to myself ‘I want to achieve this’ and then to be able to get there was very satisfying."
The event, which draws competitors from around the world, is divided into four categories, and competitors must make it into the finals of each category for a chance to compete in the grand finals. The categories are comprised of debate, impromptu speaking, interpretive reading and after-dinner speaking or persuasive speaking and are spread out over four days.
It’s an exciting event for its competitors, and even outside of the events, the debating never ceases.
"It always amazes me at these tournaments because we’ll live together for a week, week-and-a-half," said Nowski. "The debate starts in the round and it doesn’t finish until after dinner. The kids are always asking how is that done in your country or what’s it like to live there. It really does become an opportunity to share experiences and talk about different opportunities that are available and what it’s like living in different places."
The championship is as much a chance to compete as it is an opportunity to share cultures and viewpoints, said Nowski, establishing a unique venue for the exchange of many different perspectives.
"You’re not there just to compete. You also do really learn from each while you’re there and it’s something I haven’t really found you can get in any other forum," said Nowski. "You’re just getting such a cross section of kids from the four corners of the globe all at once. We’re all similar in the respect that we all have a passion for communication and a passion for connecting with other people and talking."
This was be Nowski’s last time at the tournament. She’ll be heading off to university next year, when she decides which school to attend. Already accepted to Harvard, Yale and Princeton, Nowski is waiting to hear from Canadian universities before making her final decision. If there is such a thing as a public speaking bug, Nowski has it, and it won’t be long before she’s on stage again.
"I think the thing that I will probably miss the most over the summer and looking towards university is that feeling you get speaking to an audience of hundreds and hundreds of people," said Nowski. "There’s something that talking to just a huge collection of people and that’s the part I love about it. So I’m sure as soon I start missing that desperately enough I’ll be ready to start debating at university."
About this article: