MACON – Mercer sophomore Yasmeen Hill was named the top novice speaker in the country, and, for the first time ever, the University had three teams reach varsity elimination rounds at nationals during the 23rd annual NPDA National Championship Tournament held March 14-17 at the University of Utah.
Both first-year debaters, Hill, a journalism and media studies double-major, and fellow sophomore Cameron Dawkins, a global health studies and Spanish double-major, became the first all African-American female team to win novice nationals. They also took home the novice sweepstakes award for the number of rounds won throughout the tournament.
Furthermore, Hill became only the second African-American female to win the Dan Henning Top Novice Speaker Award, with the first being Mercer alumna Jaz Buckley, who swept the awards for top novice speaker and top overall speaker as a freshman in 2015.
“I am remarkably humbled by our victory at nationals, and I have an immense appreciation for my teammates and my debate partner, Cameron Dawkins. Their constant support is what makes the activity worth the hard work,” said Hill. “This experience motivates me to further hone my skills to contribute to the growing legacy of the Mercer debate team.”
By virtue of their success in the novice division, Hill and Dawkins advanced to the varsity elimination rounds, where they reached the triple-octofinals.
Seniors Cassie Malcolm, an English major, and Garrett Williams, a politics, philosophy and economics (PPE) major, joined Hill and Dawkins in the round of 64, while juniors Taylor Cole, a communication studies major, and Eduardo Rubio, a computational science and economics double-major, made the deepest run into the varsity division, reaching the double-octofinals.
“Jaz Buckley and Kyle Bligen pioneered the path, and now new debaters, such as Yasmeen Hill and Cameron Dawkins, are following in their footsteps,” said Dr. Vasile Stanescu, director of debate. “Yasmeen and Cameron did not simply win the first-year division; they dominated it. And, for the first time ever, every single debate team from Mercer made to the elimination debate rounds at nationals. More than a single exceptional debater, Mercer supports an exceptional team that consistently wins on the national stage year after year. I could not be prouder of each of these students or more grateful to Mercer’s faculty who consistently support and mentor them.”
Bligen, who teamed with Buckley to become the first African-American team to win NPDA nationals last March, has served as an assistant coach this season before accepting a Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship to attend graduate school next academic year.
Buckley, who is attending law school at UCLA, also contributed to this year’s team as a volunteer coach for a tournament held at Concordia University in Irvine, California, in January.