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VBI Family: Interview with Laith Shakir
Laith Shakir was the champion of the 2013 NFL Nationals tournament in Lincoln-Douglas debate. He graduated from Leland High School in San Jose, CA and will be attending American University in the fall.
How did you become involved in high school forensics?
My love affair with forensics started in the 7th grade, when I got first in impromptu at the Burnett Middle School tournament. It wasn’t until my freshman year that I tried my hand at debate, although I started with Public Forum. I actually joined LD my sophomore year, after my PF partner quit debate: in retrospect, I’m very happy with the way things worked out.
What were your expectations coming into NFL Nationals? Did you expect to walk out as a national champion?
I was telling one of my teammates at the beginning of the tournament that I would be happy if I made it to Round 10: I was definitely not expecting to debate on the stage! Winning Nationals has always been the ultimate goal in my debate career: something to set as my focus and to constantly strive for. Actually achieving it is absolutely surreal.
As you conclude your high school forensics career, what advice would you give to younger students who have dreams of being on the NFL Nationals stage?
Your performance is a direct result of the amount of work you put in. Spending the time learning each resolution inside and out is what sets great debaters apart from everyone else. Also, practice practice practice! Speaking drills, rebuttal redos, and mock rounds will all be absolutely instrumental to your success.
As far as doing well at Nationals itself, the key is your attitude. It’s easy to get discouraged by how long the tournament is, but the important thing is to just focus on each round and give them each your all.
What is your favorite memory from high school forensics? What will you miss the most?
My favorite memory has got to be competing at the Berkeley tournament this year. The combination of both great people and delicious food made for an unforgettable last invitational.
I’m going to miss my teammates above all else. Debating for Leland High School means having a huge, supportive team that always stick together, and it’s this support system that I’ll feel lost without. I hope to keep in touch with all of my teammates, but nothing forges strong bonds quite like debate does!
You are the 4th member of your family to be in finals of NFL Nationals. Tell us more about that. What events did they compete in? Did they give you any advice before going into finals?
My family is definitely diverse when it comes to our experiences at NFL Nationals. My oldest brother, Omar Shakir, finaled in Senate at NFL Nationals. My sister, Deena Shakir, finaled in Expository. Zade Shakir, my older brother, finaled in HI.
Having three incredibly successful older siblings has been both a bane and a boon. The most obvious problem is the incredible pressure that is inherent with being the youngest: even if they aren’t conscientiously expressed, the expectations are enormous. On that point, however, both my parents and siblings have been incredibly supportive of me and I would not have done nearly as well as I have if it wasn’t for them. I’ll always remember the barrage of phone calls after I had found out I won the semifinals round: from speaking tips on stage to line-by-line strategy, my siblings were eager to help me out before the final round.
What does the future hold for our 2013 NFL LD champion?
I’ll be attending American University in the fall. I’m majoring in International Studies, with a possible minor in Arab Studies. I hope to stay involved with the debate community through teaching at camps this summer (such as VBI and SNFI), as well as judging next season. So if you see me around at invitationals next year, come say hi!
Any additional shout out's or thank you's that you would like to throw online for those who may not have heard your thank you speech during finals?
I’d like to again thank Gay Brasher, Leland’s head coach, for running an absolutely amazing Speech and Debate program. I’d also like to thank Chris Wardner, Leland’s LD coach, for always believing in me, even when I didn’t. Thank you to Victor Jih for going out of his way to help prep me for Nationals. Thank you to Tom Meagher, Leland’s Policy coach, and Julian Crown, Leland’s Public Forum Coach, for taking the time away from their events to give me feedback. My run at Nationals would not have been possible without such an awesome coaching staff!
There are definitely some shout outs in order. First, shout out to my teammate Priya Diwakar for placing in the top forty LD debaters as a junior: I’m really excited to see her do even better next year. Also, shout out to the Leland policy teams of Sunny Advani/Rohan Varma, and Gary Lin/Shreyas Kamat for being in the top six teams in the nation. You guys are amazing.