Kahuku junior
goes global with
national debate team

By Susan Essoyan

Adriana Alghussein, one of the stars of Kahuku High School's champion debate team, is headed for the big time as the first Hawaii student ever chosen for the U.S. International Debate Team.

"It's like the Olympics," said Alghussein, a 16-year-old who is junior class president. "I'm so thrilled and honored."

She and four teammates from across the country will fly to Stuttgart, Germany, next month for a European contest, one of several leading up to the World Championship Debate in Lima, Peru, in August.

"It's the first time we've had someone representing the state of Hawaii not just on the national scale, but on the international scale," said Walter Kahumoku, Hawaii Speech League president. "She certainly puts us on the map. She is an amazing young lady."

Not many public schools have debate teams, for lack of coaches and funding, but Kahuku has been a strong contender. At the state competition in April, Alghussein and her partner, Jessica Savini, prevailed over perennial winner Iolani School and brought home Kahuku's first championship in varsity debate.

"For a dinky little school in the middle of nowhere, Kahuku's team is full of talent," said Andrew Savini, debate team president and Jessica's brother. "Adriana's definitely got a lot."

Nearly 60 students take part in debate at Kahuku. English teacher Winnie Graham said she has volunteered as Kahuku's debate coach for 14 years because she gets so much joy seeing how debate club affects her students.

"I call it Miracle-Gro," Graham said. "It's like that blue stuff you sprinkle on plants that makes them blossom. It teaches listening skills, reading skills, research skills, public speaking, working with people."

"These are regular country kids that are poor or moderate-income," she said. "It's electrifying what happens to them. They just raise their sights and they go for it."

Team members attended summer programs at Yale, Stanford, UCLA and the University of Iowa this summer, she said.

At the national competition in Charlotte, N.C., in June, Alghussein caught the eye of U.S. international team coach Phyllis Hirth. The international debates are conducted in English, but require broad knowledge of the world and an ability to take opposing stands on global issues.

"Adriana's very, very bright and well-spoken," Hirth said by telephone from New York. "She has such a thirst for knowledge that it's just inspiring. She sees things from many different perspectives."

A cosmopolitan outlook comes naturally to Alghussein, whose mother lives with her in Kahuku while her father lives in Cairo, Egypt. Her parents met in Cairo while her mother was working at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but they divorced when she was 3. Adriana moved to California, then Hawaii with her mother and brother.

One of the things she loves about being on the U.S. team, she said, is the chance to connect with people from so many countries at international meets. At the Pan American Debate in New York City in September, she got to know the parents of one of her new teammates, and discovered that the U.S. team has its own exotic flavors.

"They were offering me food that seemed a little Arabic, but I'd never heard that accent before, so I asked where they were from," Alghussein recalled with a smile. "They said, 'Oh, we're Israeli.' 'Oh,' I said, 'I'm Palestinian.' And there was this moment of awkwardness. But it worked out really well."

Right now, her big concern is raising money for her trip to Germany the first week in December, and for travel to the world championship in Peru.

"It's really, really difficult because our school is so poor," she said. "They gave me $200 to go to New York, and I had to try to raise the rest of the money. I feel like I kind of used all the people I can call, and that was just to New York."

Donations may be made to the Kahuku Speech and Debate Team, 56-490 Kamehameha Highway, Kahuku, HI 96731. Please indicate whether the money is for Alghussein's travel expenses or a general contribution to the team.

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