Despite Odds, Once-Struggling Oakland Student Transforms Into Debate Champion

Students Rising Above

OAKLAND (CBS SF) — In debate, she talks at a hundred words a minute.

Skyline High senior and Students Rising Above scholar Christine Harris is a national championship debater. It’s quite an accomplishment, and quite a turnaround.

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In middle school, Christine hung out with the wrong crowd and her grades reflected her choices. “I had deep thoughts of always dropping out and joining the Navy, because I was never motivated to be in school.”

Home life in Oakland – then and now – is also a challenge. Only her mom is able to work. “She works a lot of hours,” she said. “It’s hard, my dad is sick and he goes to the hospital often.”

Christine took debate as an elective and attended her first tournament for the extra credit and free food. Her dad then talked her into joining the Bay Area Urban Debate League and her life changed.

“Debate gave me that outlet, a community that believes in me, that made me think I was capable of success in life,” Christine said.

Toni Nielson, the Executive Director of the Bay Area Urban Debate League (BAUDL), spoke very highly of her star debater. She explained that Christine is competing against students who spend their three months of summer vacation cycling through debate camps, and winning.

Along with natural talent, Nielson attributes part of Christine’s success to her dedication, saying she shows up to BAUDL for additional practice during the week and on weekends. Christine also helps coach younger debaters from around the country and assists in judging at their tournaments.

“What are the odds that Christine from Oakland, low-income … is going to become nationally ranked? Those odds are not good,” said Nielson. “Christine’s beating the odds, she is obliterating the odds.”

Now Christine is focused on becoming the first in her family to graduate from college and become an attorney.

“It’s my responsibility to represent, to be that positive representation of Oakland and be the change that I talk about,” she said.

“I really couldn’t have predicted a Christine Harris, given the circumstances of her life, and couldn’t have seen it, her coming, til there she was – rising, shooting like a star,” said Nielson. “I don’t know when we’ll see another Christine, but I’m sure glad I got the opportunity to work with her.”

Next month, Christine Harris will be proudly accepting the Visionary Award at the Bay Area Urban Debate League’s annual gala. The award is presented to a BAUDL student for achievement in debate as well as a strong vision for growing and improving the program.

 

 

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