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My name is Zara Yusaf and I am 18 years old. I am a senior in high school and I have been debating for eight years. My other passions include theater, singing, dancing, sailing, soccer, and softball.

The debater who almost wasn't

I participated in my first debate when I was in the Fifth Grade.  My team of three fifth graders sat across from another team of three fifth graders.  In front of us were a group of imposing adults who were to judge us.  There was also an audience of parents and other adults.  I, and I imagine, all the other 5th graders were nervous about standing up and speaking in front of others.  It was our first time, after all.  After I spoke, I sat down in tears.  I thought I was terrible.  I didn't want to do this.  I would have quit after that very first debate.  One of the Judges, a stern looking female teacher from an all-girls school in N.Y. City, asked all the debaters to leave the room while she discussed the round with the other Judges.


My parents remained in the room during the critique period.  I don't know if they were supposed to do this, but later they told me what that female judge said.  She gave the most wonderful and supportive comments after the debate.  She was critical but she was complimentary.  She was constructive.  She spoke in glowing terms about me. Hearing those kind words helped build up my self esteem.


A single act of kindness

It was those words of encouragement that convinced me to continue.  I saw her several times again over the years, but never told her that I only continued debating because of her.  It was poetic justice that it took a female teacher from an all-girls school to inspire me.  She was a strong, intelligent and well spoken woman. 


My focus at Pass The Gavel is helping young women succeed.  I recently started Public Forum Debate.  In the PF world, there are almost no debaters from traditional minority groups.  In addition, female debaters are underrepresented at the highest levels and at the most elite tournaments.  And there are almost no female debaters from traditional minority groups who participate.  Over the next few years, I would like to help change this.


Some of the other projects I envision are:


-helping young women with public speaking;

-helping young women (especially underprivileged women) with interview skills;

-collecting clothing for young women to wear to debates, job interviews, college interviews, interviews for internships, etc.


Zara Yusaf.  June, 2019


• MSPDP 2017 East Coast Championship 5-0 record

• MSPDP 2017 East Coast Championship Top 6th Grade Speaker 

• MSPDP 2018 East Coast Championship 4-1 record

• MSPDP 2019 West Coast Championship 5-0 record

• Overall 14-1 record in Championship debates (3 years)

• MSPDP Best Win-Loss Record 2017

• MSPDP Best Win-Loss Record 2018

• MSPDP Best Win-Loss Record 2019

• Top Middle School Team 2017

• Top Middle School Team 2018 

• Top Middle School Team 2019

• MSPDP Top Speaker at numerous tournaments


10th Grade Varsity.


  • Team Hackley YY. The New York City Invitational: 5-2 preliminary record: TOURNAMENT CHAMPION. GOLD TOC BID​

  • Apple Valley Minneapple Debate Tournament: 4-2 preliminary record: Double Octa-Finalist. SILVER TOC BID

  • Glenbrooks Speech and Debate Tournament: 5-2 preliminary record: Double Octa-Finalist. SILVER TOC BID

  • Fourth place speaker at the Silver TOC.

11th Grade Varsity.

Ranked as high as 6th in the Country by the NDCA. Two TOC Gold Bids.

  • NSDA Season Opener Hosted by UK: 4-2 preliminary record.  Advanced to Octa-Finals. GOLD TOC BID

  • The Yale Invitational 6-0 preliminary record: Advanced to Triple Octa-Finals.

  • The New York City Invitational: 5-2 preliminary record: Advanced to Quarter-Finals. GOLD TOC BID

  • John Edie Holiday Debates Hosted by The Blake School 4-2 preliminary record: Advanced to Double Octa-Finals. SILVER TOC BID

  • The Twin Cities Round Robin: 9-1 Preliminary Record. Advanced to Finals.

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