19 February 2014: Yale-NUS team wins Provost Challenge Shield

Written by Clare Isabel Ee | Image by Alyson Rozells

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In the minutes before the finals of the annual University Town Intercollegiate Provost Challenge Shield began on 13 February 2014, both teams of three debaters revised their stacks of notes quietly. Above the crowd’s chatter, their microphones picked up the rustling of paper and, sometimes, the slow release of a pent-up breath.

It was the annual University Town-wide competition open to Yale-NUS, the University Scholars’ Program (Cinnamon College), College of Alice and Peter Tan (CAPT) and Tembusu College. The latter founded the annual competition two years prior, each debate focusing on social issues.

This year, the topic they were to debate on for the finals was a tricky one: whether or not to ban cosmetic surgery intended to alter racial features. The proposition was the government, who was in favour of a ban. While the government team argued it was racist and dangerous to allow people to undergo such procedures, the opposition took the stand that to ban it would be to perpetuate those stereotypes, and that mentally healthy and emotionally stable adults should be allowed the freedom to beautify themselves. It was a tough war of words between the two teams, but the opposition was finally declared the winner.

“I was worried about stammering to no end and coming across as very unconvincing and green,” Yale-NUS’ May Ee Tay (Class of 2017), the third speaker from the opposition, said. “Right before the competition, I downed a bottle of Brands Essence and hoped for the best.”

Her teammate Theodore Lai (Class of 2017), first speaker, added, “Speeches always look better on paper but don’t seem to flow as well in the pressure of the seven-minute time frame and with judges staring at you. After every speech, I always receive the same feedback to calm down and look up. Easier said than done!”

May, Theodore, and their teammate Dennis Chiang (Class of 2017) won the overall debate for Yale-NUS College, and Dennis was named Best Speaker for the finals. Two members from the government team – Nicholas Carverhill and Joan Danielle Ongchoco (Class of 2017) – tied for Best Speaker for the tournament. Both scored the highest overall and the tie was broken through standard deviation, with Nicholas emerging with the title.

A veteran debater from Canada, Nicholas has been competing since the seventh grade, although this was his first foray into the Asian debating style. The Provost Challenge Shield followed the Parliamentary style that can be seen in Singaporean court, and his role as a first speaker let him assume the title of Prime Minister for his team during the finals.

“I think I gave my best performance in the grand final and improved throughout the competition,” Nicholas said. “I am very proud that my team achieved what it did – especially considering that one of our members, Evan Ma, was competing in his first-ever debate competition!”

By the end of the night, all the intensity of the debate faded away as the participants from the various colleges talked and unwound over refreshments. At least until next year.