AP Government Students Take First and Second Place at the We the People Debate

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Photo credit: Sean Wagner

Last year, the competitive team placed second at We The People.

Tai Phaniphon, Head Illustrator

     On Feb. 1, Advanced Placement Government students comprised of two groups—competitive and noncompetitive—participated in the We the People Debate at Circuit Court Ka‘ahumanu Hale, placing first and second respectively. Although this event was a requirement for the class, the MHS students walked out victorious with the chance to compete at the National level in late April in Washington D.C. 

     “Civic engagement and education is vital especially in today’s political climate and having a chance to immerse yourself in some of these issues and controversies relating to the political foundations of our government promotes that knowledge and aids not just individuals, but the country as a whole in the long run,” said Senior Emily Huff. 

     We the People is a competitive event combining both speech and debate, as well as the United States political history and current events to promote civic engagement in the youth. The AP Government students had to prepare for the possibility of one of three questions that were asked to be related to their assigned topic and unit of the constitution. From there, the students had to produce a four minute speech and answer follow up questions related to the topic. 

      “I was very nervous during the event, especially since I was in the first group to perform,” said Senior Dylan Magbaleta, a student from the competitive team. “After the presentation, I felt the weight alleviated from my chest and I realized it was a very fun and educational experience.”

      The students’ month of hard work and research proved to be fruitful as the two teams placed. For many of the students, this result came as a surprise as the competition does not allow other teams to see each other’s debate, leaving little to compare themselves to. 

       “I knew we had done well with our questions but didn’t expect to win,” said Senior Thomas Schiller. Magbaleta added, “A school from Hilo came in tailored suits and woke up (at) two in the morning to catch a plane ride here to participate. Our school was nowhere near that level of intensity and we won.”

       The nature of the We the People competition is to test the student’s preparedness and understanding of civic studies. In result, proving to be one of the hardest parts of the competition, as the AP Government students had to be well versed in their unit. 

       “Not to mention, knowing that you’re putting so much work into preparing three responses even though two of them will be for nothing is extremely frustrating,” said Huff. Magbaleta added, “We needed to answer follow up questions that we could only answer with extensive knowledge on our unit.” 

      Although this competition is meant to be challenging, the exposure of debate was an enlightening experience for the students. They felt that developing debate and public speaking skills as well as gaining an overall understanding of current events and the importance of politics was one of the greatest takeaways. 

       “Public speaking is a difficult and scary thing and being put in a place where you have to do it competitively teaches you important things about poise and performance when trying to publicly convey a message; skills which are beneficial to almost every career field and to life in general,” said Huff, who has participated in three years of mock trial.

       With the AP Government students having the possibility of continuing to nationals, the chance to improve is evident. In preparation for the next level the students hope to invest more time and practice possible follow up questions. For many of the students, they see the trip to Washington D.C. as an eye-opening experience and a chance to make memories before graduating.