Gavin Zhao founded a debate club


When I was in seventh grade, I founded a volunteer debate club at my former elementary school in my hometown, the city of Chino Hills. Not knowing what I was getting myself into, I roamed the campus, begging former teachers to spare an hour of their time, unpaid, every Monday to teach young fifth and sixth grade students basic public speaking skills. In return, my responses included “I’m sorry” and “good luck” until I finally found one teacher who was willing to harbor my ambitions.

He was a relatively new face on campus, and he had never been my teacher before. Grateful for his response, we rushed into our first year of the club with only twelve members – many of them were my little brother’s friends. By 2015, just one year later, we had grown to over sixty members and had to move our operations out of the classroom and into the multi-purpose room. I could not handle these numbers alone, so I enlisted the help of fellow debaters from my high school. Together, my co-coaches and I collaborated to teach our students; each week we would divide into small groups to share research and ideas and, eventually, practice speeches.

Additionally, I have worked with other leaders from other schools in organizing intermural tournaments within our district for the over one hundred students and parents involved in our joint organizations. In 2016, I added another elementary school to our league, and, in 2017, opened our program up to a private academy in our area. I have been extremely fortunate for this opportunity that I have had to serve my community, for the people who have supported me throughout this journey, and for the ability to share my experiences as a debater and a public speaker with a new generation. And I am proud to report that three of the original members from our first year in 2014 are now volunteering as coaches, helping to keep this program and this legacy alive.

— Gavin Zhao, 19, California