This week's Patch Portraits was produced and edited by Pam DeFiglio, Jennifer Fisher and Andrea Hart. Check back on Mondays for the next installment.
Also showcased: a Wilmette pastor delivering his final Easter sermon and a Niles Boy Scout helping to restore community history.
Four years after winning the two major high school debate contests as a team, Matt Fisher and Stephanie Spies united again at Northwestern University to win the biggest college competition—the National Debate Tournament (NDT).
The two Glenbrook North graduates, both seniors, can now add the 2011 NDT crown to their successes, along with the 2007 Tournament of Champions and National Forensic League Competition.
“What’s served us very well in debate rounds is the fact that we could often finish each other’s thoughts,” Fisher said. “We’re just very often on the same page.”
For the three weeks before the NDT, held the last weekend in March, Fisher and Spies, both seniors, spent hours every day in Northwestern University’s debate house. They combed through Lexis Nexis, researching every argument and counterargument for their chosen position on this year’s topic: whether or not the U.S. should increase the number of visas available.
“All of us were pretty much here all day every day,” Spies said. “You’re also working on stuff on your own, outside of class time, also preparing for finals, writing papers, stuff like that—and trying to keep sane with a social life.”
In addition to hours and hours of study, Spies and Fisher also enlisted the help of Glenbrook North alums Michael Klinger and Dan Shalmon as assistant coaches for the NDT.
Going to Northwestern together—and then debating as partners again—was never planned, said Fisher and Spies, although they’re friends outside of debate. Both chose the college for separate reasons, then joined the team their freshman year. They were partnered with older debaters early on, but Coach Dan Fitzmier paired them together again their senior year.
Having someone you can rely on in competition—and be honest with during preparation—is the key to a successful partnership, they said.
“We’re very comfortable in constructively criticizing one another,” explained Fisher. “Finding someone who you can argue with and not burn a bridge with is really important.”
Both Fisher and Spies are political science majors, and Spies has a minor in French. Ultimately, they’re each considering a career that’s popular with many former debaters: the law. Fisher wants to go to law school next year, following graduation, while Spies says she’ll go eventually, although not right away.
From debating as a hobby to debating as a career, one wonders if it’s hard to turn off the urge to argue.
“Sometimes if I’m arguing with my parents, they’ll be like, ‘This is not a debate,’” admitted Spies.
“My parents don’t even try,” joked Fisher.
This summer, Spies is considering speechwriting for the White House or working for the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a think tank in Washington, D.C. Fisher may wind up in PR with the Chicago Blackhawks, working for Google—or alongside Spies at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.