Joanna Mrsich found her penchant for the podium during the American Legion Auxiliary’s summer Girls State program, which introduces teens to the workings of state and local government.
When the Bonita High School graduate explored debate further at the University of La Verne’s High School Debate Camp last summer, that passion evolved into a career path.
“I want to be a lawyer,” she said.
The University of La Verne kicked off its 3rd annual debate camp July 7, drawing students from around Southern California for two weeks of debate and public speaking instruction.
The students came from campuses as far away as Vista Murrieta High School in Riverside County and Carter High School in Rialto, but also La Verne schools such as Lutheran, Damien and Bonita high schools.
It’s a chance for experienced debaters to get a jump on competition for the new school year, while also attracting newcomers to the discipline, said Rob Ruiz, university director of forensics.
“The students I love are the ones who have never done it and leave this camp just in love with debate,” he said.
Mrsich was one of those students, Ruiz said.
After completing the camp, her new skills helped her school’s debate team reach the state championship. She also earned the university’s coveted performance scholarship for speech and debate.
Mrsich, 17, plans to double major in political science and speech and communications.
Ruiz anticipates as many as 18 students will have signed up by the end of the camp July 18. Some will continue on to a second summer debate camp hosted by Stanford University.
At La Verne, coaches plan to drill students on speech and debate fundamentals and let advanced students break out into smaller groups for case writing. They’ll be paired with University of La Verne debate team members for a one day tournament. The camp culminates in debates between high school students.
University President Devorah Lieberman visited the camp during a class on July 10 to answer students’ questions and speak to them about higher education. All students in the class plan to go on to a college or university after high school. She encouraged them to pick a school that feeds their passion.
“You want a school that speaks to your heart and speaks to your head,” Lieberman said.
Ruiz extended this year’s camp by a week after past attendees said they wished the session was longer. He also received permission to use campus residence halls to house participants.
It’s a nice perk, Ruiz says, because on-campus living affords the teens a glimpse of college life.
“The kids feel like they’re in college,” Ruiz said.