As the oldest student organization at USC, the Trojan Debate Squad has more than 70 members — and some of these students are making their mark on the national stage.
This year, two USC seniors received the highest honors in national debate tournaments for their academic excellence, debate success and contributions to the community.
Hex Larsen, a senior majoring in gender studies, and Aron Berger, a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law, received several recognitions at this year’s Cross Examination Debate Association National Tournament and the National Debate Tournament.
After the duo competed together in the CEDA National Tournament, Larsen was the first USC debater to be ranked the top speaker in the tournament’s 47-year history.
“I was awarded top speaker out of 150 debaters at the tournament — it’s the largest national championship,” Larsen said. “To be the first USC top speaker of the CEDA tournament is really an honor.”
Larsen was also awarded the CEDA Brian “Baby Jo” Johnston Debater of the Year Award, which recognizes an outstanding debater who demonstrates a commitment to the highest values of the debate community.
“The Debater of the Year award is not just about debate success, but it is also about camaraderie and what it means to be a community member in debate,” Larsen said. “Being awarded was really special to me. It really illuminated the impact I’ve had on others.”
Larsen and Berger, who also compete as a team, were each awarded CEDA National Debate Scholar summa cum laude awards for academic excellence, as well as All American Debate Squad awards for competitive and academic success, good conduct and contributions to the squad.
At the 72nd annual NDT, the duo received an overall yearly ranking of ninth best debate team in the country.
Kiran Dhillon is the Trojan Debate Squad’s first female director, and under her leadership, the team has been ranked in the top 50 teams in the nation for two years in a row.
“I’m really proud of [Larsen and Berger],” Dhillon said. “In the time I’ve been at USC I’ve seen them help to transform the squad.”
When they are not competing, Larsen and Berger participate in community service programs for the Los Angeles Metropolitan Debate League, mentor youth across Los Angeles and coach younger members of the Debate Squad. Larsen and Berger said they plan to continue applying the skills they have learned for the past few years in debate to their work within the community and in their daily lives.
“Because the [debate] topic was about health care this year, throughout the year Aron and I had to have some really serious conversations about what it meant to care for one another and in what ways we were not being caring to one another and to people outside of us,” Larsen said.
Other argument topics of this year included the interconnection between health care and the military and the effect of cleanliness on personal views of health.
“I hope [our work] has a lasting impression on how people in debate care for each other,” Berger said. “ I just think if there’s a topic, there’s an academic obligation to really get at it and interrogate it.”
Dhillon says the two seniors have made their mark on the debate community.
“There are so many things I’ll remember about [Larsen and Berger],” Dhillon said. “They’ve both been active participants in a larger debate community that sometimes gets stuck in the minutia of competition and forgets about the day-to-day care about one another.”