Since its inception 151 years ago as the Palladian Debate Society, the Cornhusker Speech and Debate team has grown into a nationally recognized program that regularly produces Big Ten and national champions.
Aaron Duncan, communication studies, is the director for Cornhusker Speech and Debate and has been with the team since 2005. When he first came to UNL, he was familiar with the group's impressive history and their famous former teammates like speechwriter Ted Sorensen.
Aaron and his fellow coaches develop students from a variety of majors for speech and debate competitions. Students competing in speech perform prepared pieces ranging from persuasive and informative speeches to poetry performance. They may also compete in extemporaneous or impromptu speeches where they are given anywhere from two to 30 minutes to draft a speech based on a current event or quotation. Or, students may compete in the debate round, where they research a specific topic for the entire speech season and go head-to-head against other teams.
"We've debated agricultural policy alternative fuels, immigration policy, diplomacy with China," Aaron said. "All sorts of different topics."
This April, Aaron and the Cornhusker Speech and Debate team will host the best of the best speech and debate students from across the country at the annual National Speech Tournament. While the Huskers are excited to share their campus with their competitors, they also look forward to defending their status as one of the nation's top teams. But while the awards and accolades are rewarding, Aaron loves speech and debate for more than just that.
"Teaching students that mindset of resiliency — to be process-focused, to do great research, to think critically and to strive for constant improvement, is really the outcome that we're seeking as an educational activity," Aaron said. "And then most of all, we also just want it to be fun."