Alumni CLASnotes Spring 2005

The Great Debate

The vice presidential debate between incumbent Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards in October is now campaign history. But for a few UF students who got to take part in the event, it continues to have an impact on their lives.

UF was one of 15 universities asked to participate in the 2004 National Student Vice Presidential Debate, which took place at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, the chosen venue of the Cheney-Edwards face-off, on the days leading up to the election’s only vice presidential debate.

“When we got the invitation, I knew it was a big deal,” says Kellie Roberts, UF Speech and Debate Team director. “But I didn’t realize how big until we arrived. We had no concept of how unique and special it was that we were invited.”

A delegation of five students was selected, including two members of the UF Speech and Debate Team—political science and public relations junior LaToya Edwards and economics junior Scott Stewart. The other three campus leaders chosen to join the group were history and English senior Max Miller, a Truman Scholar; classics and finance senior Bryson Ridgway, president of the Student Senate; and religion senior Jamal Sowell, student body president.

UF junior LaToya Edwards, a political science and public relations major, debates US domestic policy against Cedric Logan, a student at the University of Rochester.
UF junior LaToya Edwards, a political science and public relations major, debates US domestic policy against Cedric Logan, a student at the University of Rochester. The event was part of the National Student Vice Presidential Debate held at Case Western Reserve University, and was one of the activities surrounding the vice presidential debate between US Vice President Dick Cheney and opponent John Edwards on October 5.

Upon arriving in Cleveland, the 73 delegates from across the nation split into two political parties—Democratic and Republican, depending on personal preference. Each party elected a chair, press secretary and party secretary and formed four policy groups to prepare for debate on key issues—domestic policy, the economy, national security, and social issues. “When we arrived, our gators just took off,” Roberts says. “They sought out leadership positions immediately.”

Ridgway was elected chair of the economic subcommittee for the Republican Party. On the Democratic side, the delegates elected Edwards chair of the subcommittee on domestic issues and Stewart secretary of the subcommittee on the economy. During the live student debate on October 4, which was later televised on C-SPAN, Edwards and Miller represented their peers as two of eight debaters chosen to argue the views of their subcommittees during the actual debate. UF was the only university to have more than one student take part in the live debate. Edwards debated for the Democrats on domestic issues and Miller for the same party on social issues. CNN’s Judy Woodruff, in front of an audience of 500, moderated the 90-minute event.

Though the National Student Vice Presidential Debate is now history, the UF delegation says it will not soon forget the experience. “I will take away great memories and a better understanding of both sides of the political spectrum’s ideology,” says Ridgway. For Edwards, the event was a great networking opportunity. “I have now made connections with the future movers and shakers of my generation,” she says. “They were all so impressive, insightful and energized about politics. I know many of them will run for office, and when they do, I will gladly vote for them.”

According to Roberts, many of today’s successful politicians, lawyers, journalists and entertainers first learned how to make arguments and give speeches on their college debate teams, including former US Senators Bob Graham and George Smathers, who both served on the UF Speech and Debate Team.

Roberts has coached the team for the past 17 years. In the late 1940s, Dallas Dickey—father of former UF football player and coach Doug Dickey—served as UF debate coach and has since had a scholarship established in his honor. The A.A. Hopkins Scholarship, in honor of a former speech instructor, also has been created to support the team, but since neither fund has reached the endowment level, no scholarships have actually been awarded.

“Many programs in the Southeast have major scholarships for their debate students and very large travel budgets,” Roberts says. “We are working with our alumni in hopes of providing scholarships in the future.”

Those interested in supporting the UF Speech and Debate Team should contact Mary Matlock, CLAS associate director of development, at or (352) 392-5412.

--Buffy Lockette

Robert Muller, Case Western Reserve University

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Friday, 13-Aug-2010 14:22:21 EDT