Rallabandi becomes state champion in OI

May 4, 2018 — by Anna Novoselov

As senior Divya Rallabandi stepped on stage during the state speech and debate tournament held last month at Mountain House High School in the Central Valley, she realized it might be the last time she got to do an activity that had meant so much to her during high school. She decided to go out and simply have fun.

Her nothing-to-lose approach worked. She went on to beat 55 other competitors to win first place in Oratorical Interpretation (OI), in which competitors dramatically recite a well-known speech. It is the second year in row that a Saratoga High student has won an event at the state tournament, after Kyle Wang placed first in National Extemporaneous in 2017.

Besides Rallabandi, seniors Ayush Aggarwal, Arun Ramakrisha and Varun Viswanath, and sophomore Siva Sambasivam also participated in the state tournament this year.

Rallabandi  attributed her win to her investment in every performance and love of speech.

“Each performance I gave was like a workout,” Rallabandi said. “I would have to drink so much water afterwards because I was so tired.”

Rallabandi recited assistant professor of sociology at UC Santa Barbara Victor Rios’ TED Talk, which examines the role of teachers in underprivileged neighborhoods. The TED talk detailed Rios’ own impoverished background and urged reforms to the education system, emphasizing that society should label young people “at promise” rather than “at risk.”

Motivated by  one of his own teachers, Rios ended up graduating from high school in the expected four years, going to college and defying society’s expectations of  his unfavorable future.

“He was inspired to work with kids in his community to promote setting aside the culture you’ve been brought up with, and seeing yourself as a survivor and someone who has overcome adversity,” Rallabandi said.

Rallabandi said that she gravitates toward speeches that emphasize overcoming setbacks that hinder people’s educational process.

“I had a really big connection to the topic, and I think the audience felt that,” she said. “I really enjoy connecting with judges, so I think that’s what took me far — my dedication to the activity.”

Rallabandi said that the best part of the tournament was having her friends, the other team members, there, who she described as being “incredibly supportive.”

For their part, Aggarwal and Ramakrishna reached octofinals and placed 10th in Public Forum Debate (PF). Viswanath also competed in OI, and Sambasivam competed in Congressional Debate.

Out of the 350 teams who went to district qualifiers for PF, 48 teams qualified for the state tournament. Aggarwal said that he was “thrilled to qualify” because the Coast Forensics League state qualifiers pits some of the national circuit’s best teams against each other for four spots.

At the end of the state tournament, Ramakrishna said that they had trouble coming up with unique refutations to their opponents’ claims as the competition grew tougher.  

“We were able to break down complicated arguments really simply and effectively for some of the more traditional judges,” Aggarwal said. “But we could have worked on comparing our arguments directly to the opposition to make the ballot more clear.”

Aggarwal and Ramakrishna had experience with the April PF topic of whether or not the U.S. should increase its quota for H1-B visas at the King Round Robin tournament in March, where they finaled and went 9-1 in ballot count. Throughout the year, they did extensive research, worked on mastering debate strategies and conducted practice rounds with members of the Saratoga High debate team and debaters from other schools.

Ramakrishna said that they spent a lot of time anticipating what the opposing side would say and finding evidence to refute those claims.

“The topic was especially gripping for us as the children of immigrants who came to this country on the visa,” Aggarwal said.

Ramakrishna said that he wasn’t nervous because both he and Aggarwal have done debate for four years and “it has become second nature” for them.

While debate can be subjective and dependent on a judge’s opinions, Rallabandi said that dedication and hard work led to the team’s successes this season.

“I just love what I do,” Rallabandi said. “Even when I’m sick or at the dentist, I would be reciting my speech just for fun. When you go up on stage and you’re having fun, judges can see that.”


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