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Northwestern University

A Well-Earned Victory

Seniors Alex Miles and Arjun Vellayappan reflect on their national debate championship

By Daniel P. Smith

For the dynasty that is Northwestern University’s debate team, four years between national titles seemed a long, torturous time.

Thanks to seniors Alex Miles and Arjun Vellayappan — who are both double-majoring in economics and political science — the Wildcats’ debate dry spell has evaporated.

Shedding the disappointment of a quarterfinals loss at the 2014 National Debate Tournament, Miles and Vellayappan charged through this year’s national championship event in April, culminating in a final-round victory over the University of Michigan. It was Northwestern’s record 15th national debate title and its first since the 2011 triumph of Matt Fisher and Stephanie Spies.

“No words could describe the feeling of winning,” Vellayappan says. “It was a long journey to get to this point and a phenomenal way to end our debate careers.”

About 80 teams competed in the 2015 National Debate Tournament in Iowa City, Iowa. The squads debated issues ranging from the legalization of marijuana and physician-assisted suicide to online gambling and prostitution.

At the end, Miles and Vellayappan were the last duo standing.

“After the devastation of falling short in 2014, winning the title [in 2015] felt that much more special,” Miles says.

Miles and Vellayappan are also two-time winners of the Copeland Award, the annual honor given to the collegiate team claiming the best season-long performance. The two agree that they found a perfect synergy on the debate stage over their two years as debate partners.

Vellayappan is the more organized and focused debater, savoring the rigorous research and reflection that championship-level debate demands, while Miles brings argumentative flexibility and a creative streak, embracing the competitiveness of debate as well as the intellectual challenge.

“It’s the combination of those disparate qualities that made us a great team and allowed us to form such a successful partnership,” Vellayappan says.

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