The Great Debate
Upon arriving in Cleveland, the 73 delegates from across the nation split into two political parties—Democratic and Republican, depending on personal preference. Each party elected a chair, press secretary and party secretary and formed four policy groups to prepare for debate on key issues—domestic policy, the economy, national security, and social issues. “When we arrived, our gators just took off,” Roberts says. “They sought out leadership positions immediately.”
Ridgway was elected chair of the economic subcommittee for the Republican Party. On the Democratic side, the delegates elected Edwards chair of the subcommittee on domestic issues and Stewart secretary of the subcommittee on the economy. During the live student debate on October 4, which was later televised on C-SPAN, Edwards and Miller represented their peers as two of eight debaters chosen to argue the views of their subcommittees during the actual debate. UF was the only university to have more than one student take part in the live debate. Edwards debated for the Democrats on domestic issues and Miller for the same party on social issues. CNN’s Judy Woodruff, in front of an audience of 500, moderated the 90-minute event.
Though the National Student Vice Presidential Debate is now history, the UF delegation says it will not soon forget the experience. “I will take away great memories and a better understanding of both sides of the political spectrum’s ideology,” says Ridgway. For Edwards, the event was a great networking opportunity. “I have now made connections with the future movers and shakers of my generation,” she says. “They were all so impressive, insightful and energized about politics. I know many of them will run for office, and when they do, I will gladly vote for them.”
According to Roberts, many of today’s successful politicians, lawyers, journalists and entertainers first learned how to make arguments and give speeches on their college debate teams, including former US Senators Bob Graham and George Smathers, who both served on the UF Speech and Debate Team.
Roberts has coached the team for the past 17 years. In the late 1940s, Dallas Dickey—father of former UF football player and coach Doug Dickey—served as UF debate coach and has since had a scholarship established in his honor. The A.A. Hopkins Scholarship, in honor of a former speech instructor, also has been created to support the team, but since neither fund has reached the endowment level, no scholarships have actually been awarded.
“Many programs in the Southeast have major scholarships for their debate students and very large travel budgets,” Roberts says. “We are working with our alumni in hopes of providing scholarships in the future.”
Those interested in supporting the UF Speech and Debate Team should contact
Mary Matlock, CLAS associate director of development, at