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For recent graduates Daksh Jain and Jasleen Randhawa of San Jose’s Silver Creek High School, winning the National Catholic Forensics League tournament was a feat four years in the making.

Over Memorial Day weekend, the two argued their way to the national victory with a 10-round winning streak on topics related to criminal justice reform, such as mass surveillance and drug sentencing.

Facing some of the most prestigious competitors in the nation, the pair had to make increasingly technical arguments as they approached the final round. Jain and Randhawa decided to take an unorthodox approach to the affirmative, which was about mandatory minimum sentences.

Their argument was that the text was too vague to squabble over.

“Usually when people that go against these things, they kind of run like elaborate like political arguments or critiques, talking about settler colonialism or capitalism or anything like that,” Randhawa said. “Ours was a very, very simple strategy for a final round: It was simply that we pointed out that their plan text is vague.”

It was even harder to tell than usual whether they had won over the judges, because the entire competition was conducted over Zoom, where it can be hard to “read the room.”

“This is our first national championship for our debate league, none of our schools have ever gotten this far, so it’s pretty phenomenal.”

Rolland Janairo, Silicon Valley Urban Debate League

“Once you go in the round, it’s really hard to figure out what they actually are thinking, and you end up with a lot of unexpected ballots,” Jain said.

Winning the 69-year-old national championship was a pleasant surprise to them both, especially considering they spent much of the year mentoring freshmen on the team, rather than preparing for competition.

Rolland Janairo of the Silicon Valley Urban Debate League said their minimal preparation for the tournament makes their win all the more impressive, and it puts the league, which focuses on teaching public speaking skills to underprivileged youth, on the map.

“They took it upon themselves to make sure that everyone felt supported and kind of leaving that legacy behind, in addition to, obviously, setting this standard,” Janairo said. “This is our first national championship for our debate league, none of our schools have ever gotten this far, so it’s pretty phenomenal.”

Janairo, who has been the executive director of the league for more than two years, said many graduates go on to enroll in top universities. This is partially because the essential skills of debate can help students learn critical thinking and clear communication techniques — while the organization also provides networking opportunities.

Jain and Randhawa are both headed to UC Berkeley in August. Jain will study computer science and Randhawa pre-med.

“It’s just further proof that they deserve a seat at the table, right? Like, if you give them some resources and that access and that opportunity, kids like Daksh and Jasmine, they just run away with it,” Janairo said.