Student Spotlight: Kumail Zaidi

Senior reigns as top debater in country

By Sofia Santelices

In the summer of 2014, sixth grader Kumail Zaidi joined the Debate Club under the motivation of ice cream and an iTunes gift card. Along with pure passion and being surrounded by inspirational seniors, Zaidi decided that debate wasn’t so bad of a craft. Since then he has participated in 26 to 32 tournaments and has achieved a plethora of debate victories throughout his high school career. Now a senior, Zaidi is described as fluent when it comes to any subjects within debate. His most dominant expression of skills is in Lincoln Debate, although he also excels in Policy Debate and Public Forum as well. “Arguably, he is the best debater in the country,” said Marna Weston, Oak Hall’s seasoned debate coach. “It has been a pleasure to work with a student with that kind of original thinking, and the capacity for critical thinking, especially in a short amount of time,” he continued.

Zaidi spends around one month prior to Lincoln Douglas Debates in order to prepare for a presented topic. The first thing he undertakes is understanding terms in the given prompt, then researches literature bases in order to make pro and con positions. Zaidi analyzes the works of modern philosophers, dissecting it and interpreting it for himself. He also works with a series of mentors from around the country.

Over the past summers, he partakes in programs around the county in order to train for Policy Debate. He has attended programs at Wake Forest, Michigan, and Emery, amongst others.

Zaidi is in constant contact with his Upper School teachers, informing them of his absences as well as planning make-up work around his schedule. His primary goal is to be ahead and staying in conversation with everyone. “The good thing about debate, for some of the classes, is that the skill is widely applicable,” Zaidi mentioned. He also wishes to pursue this further in college due to the “formative experience” and the higher level of competitiveness. 

Overall, Zaidi is the most gifted debate student in the program at Oak Hall. “[He’s] a once-in-a-generation… He’s the kind of person who can take an argument and dissect it to form multiple responses favoring his positions… He’s become a superb in handling those situations where there’s no time to figure out what to do, and the other person is there, and you have to figure out a scenario for victory. He always seems to come up with one,” Weston observed.

Most recently, Zaidi won the Harvard-Westlake Debate Tournament, defeating some of the best debate students in the country.