Amia Bastian, 15, could not hide the shock on her face on Wednesday as the judges announced that she had won the best speaker award in the National Debate Championship Finals.
She glanced around for a few seconds in disbelief, as the audience applauded, before accepting her award.
When asked afterwards why she seemed so stunned, Bastian said, “I was just surprised, because that was my fourth time winning best speaker. So I was just surprised because I didn’t know God was going to place it in set for me to win it again.”
It was a joyous end to a months-long journey for Bastian and her teammates, Abigail Johnson and Olano Thelusmar, all students of C.I. Gibson Senior High School on New Providence, as they claimed the title of national debate champions.
In an impressive display of knowledge of current affairs, they debated against students from Central Andros High School and Huntley Christie High School in North Andros on whether or not The Bahamas “has the capability of implementing a suitable National Health Insurance (NHI) program”.
C.I. Gibson opposed the moot, arguing that The Bahamas does not have the capability, while the Andros team, which consisted of Rakell Riley, Chont’Nae Nixon and Antinique Brown, argued for it.
Both teams exhibited stunning levels of comprehension of the controversial topic of NHI, competently engaging in a back-and-forth about whether or not the country is prepared for the program’s proper implementation.
Ultimately, however, C.I. Gibson won the judges over, convincing them that while the concept of NHI and more affordable healthcare in general is a good one, The Bahamas is currently facing numerous healthcare issues, such as a shortage of nurses and restricted funding, that must be addressed first.
The announcement of C.I. Gibson’s victory was met with a roar of applause and screams from their classmates.
“I felt blessed, yet surprised,” said Bastian, as she recalled the moment.
“I was really shocked.”
She added, “It was a wonderful experience, not just for me, but for the teammates, the coaches.”
Thelusmar, 16, said, “It felt incredible, because last debate series, we lost in the quarter-finals, and my teammates and I made it our goal to make it to the finals, not only to make it, but to win the entire debate, because two of us on the team are presently in grade 12, so we wanted to end it with a bang.”
Asked how he felt about being the only male participant in the finals, he said, “It shows that a lot of our males today aren’t outspoken and into public speaking because of the fear a lot of people have for it.”
Thelusmar admitted that he also used to be afraid to speak publicly.
“If someone paid me $1,000, I could not have gone to public places and spoken,” he said.
“I was very shy.”
Asked how he overcame his fear, Thelusmar said, “My English teacher, Ms. Hanna; we had an oral assignment in class, and she saw potential in me, so she spoke with me and encouraged me.
“She along with my debate coaches, they brought out that gift and helped me use it.”
While C.I. Gibson came out on top, it was not for a lack of skill and preparation from the family island students, who vehemently defended The Bahamas’ ability to implement NHI.
The Andros students’ coaches could be seen in the audience anxiously mouthing the words to the prepared speeches from memory as their students spoke them from the podium.
It was a clear reminder of the amount of time and dedication they had all invested in the feat of making it to the finals.
“I’m a little disappointed, but yet happy, because we made it, after going through 16 schools, and we made it in the top two,” said Neketha Scott-Miller, one of the coaches for the Andros team.
“When I think of all that we did to make it here, and the fact that we did, it’s still a good feeling, but the desire was to win.”
She said that competing as a family island team came with its challenges, but they overcame them.
“It’s a commendable thing, because we don’t have all the resources. We didn’t have the opportunities to come together as a team, and so we made it work.”
She added, “We are challenged because we are a district made up of almost three separate islands, but we made it happen.”
C.I. Gibson Coach Cylestina Williams also expressed the pride she felt for her team.
“This is a rewarding culmination of eight months of sacrifice and hard work,” she said.
“I and my fellow coaches, Ms. Shanika Rolle, Dr. Paul Thomas and Mrs. Gloria Lynch, were especially blessed to see the dynamic display of talent in our debaters, who allowed us to mold and mentor them.”
Peter Philips, managing director of Brass and Leather Shops Ltd., has been a sponsor and judge of the debates for a decade. He encouraged other corporate sponsors to get involved.
“The private sector has a moral obligation to step up and be more involved in the educational process of The Bahamas,” he said.
“The debates help teach the students how to reasonably argue, how to research, how to listen.
“It is important to provide our young people with constructive intellectual opportunities.
“Through sponsoring an initiative such as this, we invest in the next generation.”