Anjani’s agenda

Junior inspires passion for speech and debate

Ella Dorfman, Managing Editor

Of all the phobias out there, public speaking consistently ranks among the highest. Approximately 75 percent of people suffer from speech anxiety. But junior Anjani Sharma experienced no such anxiety when she walked on stage before an audience of hundreds at the University of Florida’s Blue Key opening ceremony. Her hands, trembling from excitement, began to move as she voiced words of power about her goals to advance speech and debate in Brevard County.

“I’ve always been pretty outgoing with natural public speaking skills, but I think speech and debate really allowed me to have an outlet,” Sharma said. “There’s no other place, no other extracurricular you can do where you’re actively speaking, participating, debating and thinking.”

Sharma started speech and debate in seventh grade, when it the club only had one other person. Now, she is the captain of the club.

“[Jodie] Capron was my English teacher, and she said that it would be something that I’d be really good at, so I [joined the club],” Sharma said. “I went to the first Brevard County school tournament, and I did pretty well.”

Capron, speech and debate club sponsor and English teacher, has known Sharma for five years. When Capron started teaching at West Shore, Sharma was one of the first students to show interest.

“I was new to speech and debate, and I said yes [to sponsoring it],” Capron said. “First, I looked at kids who were good writers and people that had good presentation skills. [Sharma] was really the only one who stuck it out, and every single year she’s had something.”

Sharma continued speech and debate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic by joining DebateDrills, an online debate team, to compete in various web-based tournaments. When returning to campus as a sophomore, she started attending circuit and collegiate-level tournaments focusing on Lincoln-Douglas style and congressional debate in the House and Senate. Lincoln- Douglas is a one-on-one form of debate that focuses on morals and justice.

“I have been to the Harvard National High School Invitational, Yale, Blue Key at the University of Florida and the University of Miami,” Sharma said. “I made it to nationals for the National Speech & Debate Association, and placed fourteenth in Lincoln- Douglas. Debate has been a big part of my high-school career because it’s kind of my biggest extracurricular. I am the only person in Brevard County who competes in the circuit level tournaments.”

Last year, Sharma started recruiting more students to the club and coaching and volunteering on her own time. She coaches two middle-schoolers at West Shore and students from Johnson and Jefferson middle schools.

“The middle-schoolers do pretty novice debates,” she said. “We started [a program six or seven months ago] with Edgewood at Jefferson and Johnson middle schools. We go and teach students speech in debate skills because these are historically disadvantaged neighborhoods that are not flourishing, and they already have established programs for volunteering. We go and we just teach basic speech and debate skills like arguments, rebuttals, how to respond effectively to questioning, how to get the argument back on limited time, how to be effective, how to have that speech voice when you’re a little shy, how to have passion and all these different skills.”

At West Shore, Sharma coaches eighth-grader Maggie Q. This is Maggie’s first year debating in incubate debate, although her interest started in sixth grade at Odyssey Charter School. Incubate debate is where students gather to discuss issues together while being judged by officials in politics and business. 

“At my old school, the teacher taught us about the major outline and components of speech and debate,” Maggie said. “In seventh grade, I just learned. My school didn’t provide anything. [Sharma] helped me, especially in the beginning. She helped me prepare my research out of nothing.”

Sharma said speech and debate gave her skills that translate into all her extracurriculars.

“A lot of students tend to take more [Advanced Placement classes], but clubs like speech and debate really prepare you for your career,” she said. “All the opportunities that I personally have are because of speech and debate and the skills and experiences I’ve had. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to work with our mayor, city councilman and county councilman by giving speeches at various meetings. They see my debates on YouTube and see all the honors that I’ve acquired.”

Maggie said debate positively influenced her critical thinking about current events.

“It helped me learn more about what’s going on,” she said. “You have to think fast and be prepared. You have to give a response for your side. I improved a lot on my public speaking. I have better writing and speaking skills.”

Sharma has become more politically active because of speech and debate, and hopes to one day serve as politician at the national level. This summer, she intern with U.S, Rep. Bill Posey in Viera.

“A lot of what speech and debate includes is talking about current affairs, politics and global affairs,” she said. “I don’t think without debate I would have known what I want to do in my future. It was always going to be medicine, engineering or these STEM activities that West Shore heavily focuses on, but I think debate [led me to my passion.]”

Capron said Sharma would “move a mountain to get what she wants done.”

“When she really started hitting her stride, the leadership just comes off of her like light,” Capron said. “She is very good at sharing that passion and that fire. I would put my full confidence in Anjani Sharma as a politician.”

Maggie said she wants to carry on Sharma’s legacy when she graduates.

“[Sharma is] very ambitious and a good role model for me to follow,” Maggie said. “I want to do politics or something law-related, or maybe a lawyer or business adviser. Speech and debate helped me find my path and be interested.”

Maggie signed up for the Florida Civics Debate Initiative next year.

“Because incubate was the first thing that Maggie participated in, [Sharma] really gave her a great leg up,” Capron said. “I’m thrilled for [Maggie] that she wants to go into FCDI because speech and debate is small. We start off with twenty people, but once they find out about how much outside work really is involved, I’m happy if I have four people that are actually wanting to compete.”

Sharma wants to revive speech and debate in Brevard County before she graduates.

 “BPS has not had a tournament set in a while because there is not enough interest and COVID-19,” Sharma said. “This is not something that I do just for the sake of doing for a resume or building up my college application. I want younger grades to find this passion in speech and debate and be even better than I am.”