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Emory debate team finishes season among nation’s best
Eu and Grace receiving 2ndrank plaque awards

Debate partners Grace Kessler (left) and Eugenia Giampetruzzi finished the season ranked as the second best collegiate debate team in the country. Giampetruzzi won the Top Speaker award at the National Debate Tournament for the second consecutive year, becoming the first woman to repeat for the honor.

Emory Woodruff Debate Scholars Eugenia (Eu) Giampetruzzi and Grace Kessler capped their three-year powerhouse partnership by finishing as the second-ranked team following the collegiate National Debate Tournament (NDT) that ended on April 3.

Giampetruzzi also captured the award for Top Speaker at NDT for the second consecutive year. She is the first woman and just the fourth debater to win back-to-back top honors in the NDT’s 77-year history.

Two other Emory teams — Henry Mitchell paired with Bella Piekut and Clara Conry with Serena Rupp — cleared eight preliminary rounds to make it to the elimination rounds.

Giampetruzzi is the only teammate graduating this year. Mitchell (who is also a Woodruff Debate Scholar) and Kessler are juniors. Piekut is a sophomore, and Conry and Rupp are first-year students.

“I could not be more proud of our team, and I feel great about the future of the program,” says Mikaela Malsin 10C director of debate at Emory University.

Debate has integrally linked to Emory’s identity and traditions since students founded the Phi Gamma Literary Society to argue current events in 1837, a year after Emory’s founding on its original campus in Oxford, Georgia.

The tradition of public debates continued after Emory relocated to Atlanta and well into the last century when the society went on to become the Barkley Forum for Debate, Deliberation and Dialogue. The name honors Alben W. Barkley, a graduate of Emory debate who served as vice president under Harry Truman.

Melissa Maxcy Wade 72C 74G 96T 00T took over Barkley Forum when she was an Emory College senior and third seed at the NDT.

Her 42-year tenure marked unprecedented growth, with community outreach and a commitment to diversify membership that culminated in 2007, when Aimi Hamraie 07C and Julie Hoehn 08C became the only all-woman team to win the NDT.

Giampetruzzi and Kessler had hoped to become the second. They have been among the nation’s best debate teams since pairing up in 2020, when they met in Giampetruzzi’s room on Clairmont Campus for online tournaments.

“For me, it’s not just that I needed to be on the team of the next two women to win the NDT as much as being part of increasing the chance that it will be two women,” Giampetruzzi says. “Emory Debate has so many talented women and talented debaters who can do more than I could, and I’m proud to have had any part of that.”

Kessler plans to return to debate next year, though she is uncertain what competition will look like without her long-term partner. This summer, when competitive debaters research and begin practicing for the new season that begins in August, the political science major will be an intern with McKinsey & Company consulting in Washington, D.C. It is her second policy internship in two years, during which she has also served as co-editor of “Emory Political Review.”

“One of my favorite parts of debate at Emory has been working with the team, so I know whatever career I enter, I want to work with people with a shared purpose, drive and curiosity,” says Kessler, who plans to attend law school. “I know it’s not the end of us working together, but it’s really hard to imagine not debating with Eu.”

After graduation, Giampetruzzi will spend the next two years working on a psychiatric research fellowship with Georgetown University, with plans to act as a Barkley Forum adviser for at least one year.

The workload doesn’t faze Giampetruzzi. She had conducted undergraduate research at both Emory School of Medicine’s Child and Adolescent Mood Disorder program and the Treatment Resistant Depression program while working toward her pre-med psychology degree and debating for Emory.

“What Eu and Grace have achieved is truly remarkable, not just for being competitively successful but for using debate as a vehicle to promote the democratic and deliberative engagement of challenging social issues while elevating the voices of women in numerous campus conversations,” says Ed Lee III, senior director of inclusivity for Emory College and strategic director for Barkley Forum.

“This is not about this immediate moment,” Lee adds. “It’s about a legacy they will leave that contributes significantly to an inclusive model of collegiate debate at Emory and beyond.”

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