Senior brings national champion confidence to LHS debate squad

photo by: Elvyn Jones

Lawrence High School senior Vera Petrovic won an individual national championship in June while joining a select team of eastern Kansas debaters at a national championship in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Shown her Nov. 15, 2018, she said the experience has given her a boost of confidence as a member of the LHS debate team.

There is an element of debate that spurs doubts in competitors, says Lawrence High School senior Vera Petrovic.

“An activity like debate can give you so many special skills for the rest of your life,” she said. “But it can also make you feel incredibly doubtful sometimes, because you are going intellectually head to head with somebody. That can make you feel extremely insecure about your intellect or ability. I think everyone deals with that.”

Vera won a large trophy last summer that she said gives her confidence by reminding her that she has something worthwhile to say. She received the trophy when she won the World School Debate individual championship at a competition in June at the National Speech and Debate Tournament in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. To get on the five-member team, Vera and others had to interview and audition a speech with the event’s organizers.

The team’s run in the event ended in the quarterfinals, but Vera did so well while debating such policy questions as tariffs, whether corporations should be able to donate as individuals and the possible negative effects of reality television that she was named the individual first-place champion.

“In each round, you were given individual rankings on speaking,” she said. “The award I won was for the individual speaker ranks.”

Vera, the daughter of Zina and Uros Petrovic, said the event’s atmosphere brought out her best.

“I definitely did prepare,” she said. “I think the larger aspect was I really loved the activities. I really enjoyed myself while debating. I really had a good time, and I had great teammates. I think that was the most important thing, having such a stable and great team, because it takes a lot of the pressure off when you are in that environment where you have a fun atmosphere with people you enjoy.”

She definitely did not go to Fort Lauderdale expecting to win, Vera said. Told the night before the awards ceremony that she placed in the top 15, she feared as the numbers on stage dwindled during the award’s countdown that it was all a mistake.

“I had this dreadful feeling in my stomach that I was going to have to leave the stage in front of everyone with nothing,” she said.

The LHS debate team of coach Jeff Plinsky is having a very solid season, and Vera said she is enjoying her senior-year experience.

“I have always enjoyed the challenge of having to piece together arguments and convey them to people and do so in an attractive way,” she said. “Coming into high school, it was a way for me to utilize things I enjoyed doing and was good at.”

Plinsky said the award has not gone to Vera’s head or changed her approach to debate.

“She is still the humble, funny kid that she has always been,” he said. “Her growth really happened prior to receiving the award and came as a result of her work ethic and her ability to find joy in the activity.”

Her real love is forensics, and she is looking forward to that competition in the spring semester, Vera said.

Vera is still undecided about her college choice. She has applied to the University of Kansas and several East Coast schools and plans to study psychology and sociology with a focus on academic research.

“I really want to go back to the World School Debate this summer,” she said. “I would like for my team to go further, because we lost in such a heartbreaking round. I’m usually very peaceful about whether we win or lose a debate round, but I was very, very upset when we lost that one. We were so close. I would really like to go back and get through to the finals.”


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