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Sharing His Love of Debate

Nihar Duvvuri is expanding access to speech and debate clubs

THE INSPIRATION: When Nihar Duvvuri was a freshman, he joined his Fremont, California, school’s speech and debate team. He enjoyed the challenge of crafting an argument to persuade an audience of his position on an issue, and he especially liked the “speech” events, in which competitors perform poems, plays, or other texts—some they even write themselves.“It made me more of a ‘people person,’” says Nihar, now a senior. 

Nihar also enjoyed competing in tournaments, but one thing bothered him. “It seemed like it was all middle-class or upper- middle-class people at the tournaments,” he says. A possible reason? Tournament fees can add up to more than $1,500 a year—and that’s not even including the cost of travel. “You can’t get good without going to tournaments, because that’s where the best of the best are,” explains Nihar. It didn’t seem fair that others might miss out on the benefits of speech and debate just because they couldn’t afford the fees.

THE ACTION: Nihar came up with an idea for a nonprofit that would subsidize tournament and travel expenses for students from low-income families. His nonprofit, called the Project Speech and Debate, would also provide free coaching. “I want to make a fair playing field for everyone,” he says.

With a team of volunteers, Nihar began raising money through donations. (They hope to raise more funds through sponsorship opportunities.) After identifying potential partner schools, they sent emails asking if the schools wanted to participate. 

THE OUTCOME: So far, the Project SD has partnered with a middle school in San Francisco and is in talks to expand its program. In addition to providing financial support, the program provides coaches who teach participants the basics of speech and debate and lead them through mock competitions. “Some kids are exceptionally good,” Nihar says. 

Nihar plans to continue to work on the Project SD after he graduates from high school. He believes the entire speech and debate community will benefit from being more inclusive. “We want to hear more voices, not fewer,” he says.

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