At 17, B.C. debater has to find new stage
PUBLIC SPEAKING CHAMP
Shakir Rahim has unofficially retired at the age of 17.
As he graduates from British Columbia’s Collingwood School this spring, it marks the end of his competitive public speaking and debating career.
But what a career it was. He has just won the World Individual Debating and Public Speaking Championships for the second year in a row.
The competition drew 80 participants from 15 countries.
He is only the second person in the competition’s 20-year history to win twice, having earned the right to appear there again after winning the CanWest National Public Speaking Championships held in Winnipeg in February.
“I won last year as well, so there was substantial amount of pressure to pull it off again. It took a lot of hard work ... In the final days, if you make the grand finals, you’re in front of 350 people. They’re hanging on to your every word, and it just feels fantastic to know that you’ve achieved this level of success,” he said.
The four categories in the competition are impromptu speaking, persuasive speaking, parliamentary debating and interpretive reading.
He was the only competitor to make it to all four event finals and to three grand finals.
His favourite category is parliamentary debate. It’s a skill he believes will further his career.
He is moving to Toronto this fall to study international relations at the University of Toronto’s Trinity College.
“Eventually in the long term, I’d love to pursue a career in international relations,” he said. “Being involved in this sort of process to analyze other people’s viewpoints and really see what their values system is ... it lends itself to the art of compromise as much as it does argument.”
Mr. Rahim made his public speaking debut in Grade 1, in a competition that included second and third graders.
He gave a minute-long speech about the oceans.
“I was definitely terrified that first time. I was like, ‘I’m not really quite sure if I can do this.’ But, you know, they pushed me on and said, ‘No, no, no, don’t worry.’ And I ended up, I think in front of 600 people, and I was just a little kid.”
In his debut, Mr. Rahim came in second.
His debating and public speaking coach, Julia Clarke, believes it was his upbringing that set him apart.
His father was a Ugandan refugee; his mother is from Pakistan. Two older brothers were also active debaters and went on to study at Ivy League schools.
Mr. Rahim credits his brothers with fostering his interest in debate and thanks Ms. Clarke for refining it.
She believes Mr. Rahim’s intensity is unique for someone so young. “He has such a passion for public speaking and debating. Such a passion for the world in general, actually. He’s fascinated by world events, devours news stories — The Economist is his favourite reading.”