Meet Our Students

The Chicago Debate Commission has provided competitive academic debate programming to over 13,000 students since 1997. Most of our students come from neighborhoods wracked by violence and poverty. In Chicago’s complicated school system, our program is unusual for bringing together students from all kinds of schools (including neighborhood, charter, magnet, selective enrollment, and traditional comprehensive district schools) from all parts of the city. Our students are 76% low-income and 85% students of color and come from across the academic spectrum, including those who start high school as high performers and those who start with academic challenges. For both groups, our debate program meaningfully advances their skills and college readiness. Since 2008, the number of student debaters has grown by 254% in schools with Title I percentages over 85%.

Our students confirm that debate has a positive impact in their lives — it changes the way they view their role in the world, builds confidence, and helps them succeed in ways they never dreamed possible. Read a few of our students' stories below.


Chime Asonye

The two years I debated for Whitney Young High School provided me with some of the most exciting and intense academic experiences of my life. Nothing during college could quite recreate that intellectual rush, so I co-founded a policy debate team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After competing collegiately for four years, I ended my career as an All-American Debater.

Debate equipped me with the advocacy skills to make a difference. Debate allowed me to construct a vision for change and then vigorously defend that ideal with concrete policy action. This cultivated my passion for using the law as an instrument for change and I graduated with my Juris Doctorate from Northwestern University School of Law.

Debate also taught me the role effective advocacy can play in the resolution of leading international issues and I expanded my inner city scope to global proportions. After college, I served as an academic debate consultant for the United States Agency for International Development in Liberia. I also coached Nigeria’s national debate team to the Pan-African University Championships in Zimbabwe.

I am now pursuing a career in African development in my position as the Senior Aide to the Nigerian Governor. Debate changed my life. I am now using what I gained in debate to help transform the lives of others around the world. I could not be more thankful to those who support the Chicago Debate Commission.

  Chime Asonye

Dara Davis

I graduated from Lane Tech High School in 2013. Transitioning to such a large high school was difficult but joining debate helped me find my place. Debating all four years allowed me to meet people with similar interests, not only at my school but across the country, and form lasting friendships. At my final competitive debate tournament of my high school career I was recruited by a member of the Loyola University Chicago Debate Society.

Debate introduced me to so many wonderful opportunities. During my second year at Loyola University, my partner and I were invited to debate in Oxford, England. In debate, we always talk about different cultures and being open to new things; I believe debating in another country really allowed me to experience this.

I am still involved at the Chicago Debate Commission in many different capacities because I knew I wanted to help students just as the league helped me. I coach at my alma mater during the debate season and I am learning to run tab for the League. Recently I began interning at the CDC's offices to assist the organization in grant proposal research.

Not only has debate made me a more confident person but debate has also taught me how to advocate for things I believe in. My advocacy skills are the most important thing debate could have given me. Everyone can agree that there are things wrong with the world but it takes a special type of person to make a change, and debate has made me that type of person.

Hanna Nasser

I debated for Whitney Young High School for four years. My debate partner and I were the first team from a Chicago Public High School to win the Illinois State Championship in Policy Debate. I am in my last year at the University of Illinois where I am pursing a double major in Gender and Women's Studies and Political Science.

After graduating high school, I had a paid marketing internship with a CDC sponsor, Performance Trust Capital Partners. The experience I gained from this allowed me to secure a job at the University of Illinois Undergraduate Library. I was also a lab instructor at the Chicago Debate Summer Institute after high school. I gained a new appreciation for teaching as a profession and how it can impact young minds. I learned how to better communicate complex concepts to younger students, and gained the patience and passion necessary to help them succeed.

My experiences debating in the Chicago Debate League were integral to shaping my interest in politics, international relations, and public policy issues. What I learned while debating gave me invaluable tools for conquering college. When I graduate, I hope to continue my education and pursue a Master's Degree in a related field.

Forrest Sumlar

I graduated from Morgan Park High School in 2003 after spending two years on the debate team. I continued my debate career in college at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign, where I co-founded Illinois Policy Debate. I later went on to attend law school at DePaul University College of Law, and I am now a practicing attorney at an investment advisory firm.

During college, I utilized the skills and knowledge I obtained through debate to excel in and out of class. While many would assume that policy debate skills do not easily translate into a material benefit for accounting courses, I found it to be my most significant asset. Policy debate taught me critical thinking skills that made it easy for me to analyze the case materials and develop a position. Policy debate also taught me oral presentation and persuasion skills that I used to explain and defend my position.

To no surprise, these skills also benefited me in my pursuit of becoming an attorney. The Law School Admissions Test is essentially a test of one’s ability to read, interpret, and analyze information quickly. That is debate! Even without taking a prep course or spending significant time preparing for the LSAT I was able to parlay my debate skills into scoring around the 80th percentile of those that took the same exam.

More significantly, I utilized those same skills to successfully defend real clients in front of real judges in real criminal proceedings. I now use my debate skills in my day-to-day activities ensuring that my firm is complying with securities regulations.

Debate has been everything to me.