At 17, B.C. de­bater has to find new stage


National Post (Latest Edition) - - News - BY NI­COLE GI­RARDIN

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.”

Shakir Rahim

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