2 Indian-American high school students selected to USA International Debate Team

Roopa Irakam and Rohit Jhawar.

Roopa Irakam, a senior at Watchung Hills Regional High School in Warren, New Jersey, and Rohit Jhawar, a senior at John F.Kennedy High School in Sacramento, California have been selected to the USA International Debate Team.

Ishan Bhatt of Saint Andrew's Episcopal School in Jackson, Mississippi, has been selected to 2019 World Schools Debating Championships Team, while Vinayak Menon of Lamberville High School in Georgia is among 15 members of the USA Debate Development Team, who will train and practice with USA Debate coaches and alumni to learn more about World Schools Debate.

The USA Debate Team competes against other countries throughout the year, culminating in the World Schools Debating Championships international championship in July. For the past three years, the U.S. team has finished in the top 6 at the international championship tournament. "Our USA Debate Team showcases the best and brightest high school students in our country who represent our honorary at the highest level," said J. Scott Wunn, executive director of the National Speech & Debate Association. "The 2019-2020 team features some absolutely phenomenal speech and debate competitors. I'm certain they'll continue the incredible achievements of this team."

Irakam has been involved with speech and debate since 7th grade, competing primarily in Congressional Debate and World Schools Debate. She currently serves as the co-captain of her school’s speech and debate team alongside her twin sister. "In today's tumultuous political climate, where insults are thrown at anyone trying to do the right thing and radical, discriminatory policies have been more accepted, it is more important than ever for students like myself to use our voices to make a positive impact," she said. “Having the opportunity to express my voice and opinions through debate all over the world is so important to me."

Irakam has made it to numerous semifinal and final rounds in Congressional Debate, along with being the champion of the Princeton Tournament. As a member of the 2018-2019 USA Debate Development Team she broke to multiple out rounds with her team, as well as breaking to elimination rounds at NSDA Nationals with her NJ District Team. Outside of debate, she is a Girl Scout and Indian classical dancer, completing her Bharatanatyam Arangetram. She currently serves as her school’s student body president and as the chairperson of the Somerset Healthcare Foundation Youth Board at her local hospital.

Jhawar has been involved in debate since his freshman year, primarily in Congressional Debate. Most notably, he won the 2019 NSDA tournament in Congressional Debate-Senate. He also championed the Stanford Invitational, took 2nd at the California State Tournament, and took 4th at the Tournament of Champions and UCBerkeley Invitational. He has been president of his team for three years, and also coaches debate over the summer. Outside of debate, he is president of his school’s California Scholarship Federation chapter and Latin Club, coaches youth basketball, and plays varsity soccer.

The USA Debate Team kicked off the season with training in Dallas, Texas. The team is coached by National Speech & Debate Hall of Fame Coaches Aaron Timmons and Cindi Timmons, who also serves as team manager. Their first international competition will take place in Stuttgart, Germany in November.

According to information on the National Speech & Debate Association website, Bhatt has been participating in speech and debate for four years, primarily competing in Lincoln-Douglas Debate. He has achieved national success, championing the National Speech & Debate Association tournament, the Harvard Invitational, and the Harvard Round Robin. He also placed 2nd at the National Catholic Forensic League tournament and 5th at the Tournament of Champions. He also enjoys doing volunteer instructional work for speech and debate, providing debate instruction and summer debate camps for his community. Outside of debate, Bhatt enjoys quiz bowl, tennis, and playing alto saxophone and piano.

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