Local student is most valuable debater

Contributed photo Pierce Pramuka holds up the  Most Valuable Debater plaque and the certificate he received after a week at Cornell University.

Contributed photo
Pierce Pramuka holds up the Most Valuable Debater plaque and the certificate he received after a week at Cornell University.

Picture this! You’re 15 years old and you’re spending a week at Cornell University with students from around the world. Each day, after listening to a lecture, you’re given a proposition and told whether you will argue for or against it. Your speech must be five minutes long. If it’s shorter or longer, your team loses points.

It sounds intimidating, but Pierce Pramuka handled the pressure successfully. At the end of the week, he received a plaque as the program’s Most Valuable Debater.

Pierce, a Cornwall-on-Hudson resident, is a sophomore at Storm King School. He developed an interest in international relations and debating from a history course he took with Karen Ruberg — who recruited him for the school’s Model UN program.She also told him about the program at Cornell.

When Pierce heard about it, he was enthused. But that didn’t mean he could go. “First you’ll have to get accepted,” his father told him. “Then you’ll need a job or a scholarship to pay for it,” his mother said.

The future award-winner opted for the scholarship. He listed his experiences and goals, and had his parents complete a questionnaire. He got accepted and he got the financial assistance he needed. “I was stoked,” he said later, “and my parents were thrilled.”

Of course, the thrills would continue. The program lasted from July 30 to Aug. 6. Some of the lecture topics were
-climate change and the effects on the ocean
-disenfranchisement of voters
-amnesty for dictators
-and discouraging animals from being household pets.

The judges evaluated each speaker for style, content and strategy. They also considered use of time, which Pierce found challenging. “I was not one of the people who had to cut their speeches,” he said. “I found it hard to fill the five minutes.”

But the judges must have been satisfied with the way he used his time. At the end of the program, he received the “Most Valuable” Award at a banquet at a local hotel. His parents were among the dinner guests.

The award placed him above a few dozen students in his age group. From watching the older teenagers, however, he could see where he needed improvement. “The older debaters were almost flawless,” he said. “I held my own, but I certainly have a ways to go.”

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Ken Cashman