Notre Dame to host national high school debate competition

by Notre Dame News

Ronald Reagan debates his 1984 Democratic rival for presidency, Walter Mondale Ronald Reagan debates his 1984 Democratic rival for presidency, Walter Mondale.

The University of Notre Dame will host a national debate event for regional high school students competing in a tournament to win college scholarships. Sponsored by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and the Annenberg Foundation, the Great Communicator Debate Series celebrates Reagan’s role as a “Great Communicator” and encourages civic engagement among high school students.

The public forum-style debates will take place on Sept. 29 (Saturday) in University classrooms, and the debate topic will be whether national service should be mandatory for all U.S. citizens. Notre Dame seniors and law students will serve as judges, evaluating students on how well they develop persuasive arguments and communicate their ideas to a general audience.

The final debate, which will take place at 6 p.m. in Washington Hall, is open to the public. The event is free, but tickets are required and will be available in Room 201 of Main Building from 9 a.m. to noon on Sept. 28 (Friday), or at the door prior to the event.

The program invites high school students from around the country to participate in regional tournaments. The winners of those tournaments will then compete with other regional winners at the Reagan Presidential Library in California days before the presidential election.

The event highlights debate at Notre Dame; builds on the recent appointment of the University’s president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., to the national Commission on Presidential Debates; and rekindles the ties between Reagan and Notre Dame, including his 1981 Commencement speech.

“As Father Jenkins has emphasized, Notre Dame is a university that educates students to express their views in thoughtful and respectful ways, through the use of persuasion and skillful argument,” notes Susan Ohmer, academic adviser to the Notre Dame Debate Team and the William T. and Helen Kuhn Carey Associate Professor of Modern Communication. “By hosting these debates, we are pleased to highlight Father Jenkins’ commitment to civil discourse and the University’s efforts in this area.”

The Notre Dame event will be the first of the regional tournaments, launching the regional debates with more than 100 high school students and their coaches expected to attend.

“Through his work in ‘Knute Rockne: All-American’ and his commencement speech, President Reagan has both a strong association with Notre Dame, and a tremendous fondness for the University,” said Anthony Pennay, director of the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Presidential Learning Center at The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation. “It is an honor to continue the relationship between President Reagan and Notre Dame.”

Notre Dame is one of eight institutions invited to host regional debates, with other locations including the University of Southern California, Boston College, Mount Vernon and the Ford Theatre in Washington, D.C.

Contact: Susan Ohmer,