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Wiley College preps for debate tournament, superstar weekend

Wiley College had a lot to celebrate on Thursday during its annual spring convocation, which also doubled as a kickoff to the college's first ever HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) National Speech and Debate Championship Tournament.

The college is set to welcome about 400 students from 17 other HBCUs across the U.S. on campus today for the weekend long tournament.

The Thursday convocation ceremony also served as a kickoff to the college's 12th annual Ethical Student Leadership Conference, which serves as the platform for the tournament.

The colleges competing in the two-day tournament are part of the newly formed HBCU National Speech and Debate League, which was formed in the fall through grants from the Charles Koch Foundation.

"Debate is probably the most powerful educational activity ever created, and this league creates opportunity for hundreds of students," Wiley College Director of Forensics Christopher Medina said. "This activity is a profound pedagogy that provides students with skills and educational opportunities which can be used throughout a student's life, regardless of their chosen career path."

In celebration of the college's first national championship tournament, Hollywood star Denzel Washington, who served as one of the lead actors in the movie "The Great Debaters" about Wiley College's debate team, will be on campus Saturday to receive an award during the tournament's awards ceremony. Washington will also be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the release of the movie with Wiley College students, staff and faculty.

"We are so pleased and it so fitting to have Mr. Washington back on campus as we launch the HBCU Speech and Debate Tournament," Medina said.

"Because of his unyielding support, our debate program was not only reborn, it has excelled in achieving goals of winning highly coveted prizes and awards, and producing Wiley graduates who credit debate education for equipping them with solid and marketable skills to compete in the workforce."

Due to limited space on campus, the awards ceremony will be open to participants only, college spokeswoman Tammy Taylor said.

Wiley College President Haywood Strickland, who is retiring this summer after 17 years of leading the college, was honored during Thursday's convocation, along with the college's A Cappella Choir Director Stephen Hayes.

"In this day and time, what we need is sisterhood and brotherhood," Strickland said.

"It's time for me to move on - I'm not a young man anymore. It's time for a generational change. The board and I decided we'd start this process three years ago and the board participated in special training specifically for this transition. During the next several months, at my invitation, you will see the incoming president on this campus so he will get to know you all before he leads you all."

The A Cappella Choir performed several songs during a tribute concert for Strickland before the college's new President Elect Herman Felton Jr. introduced himself to the students and alumni present.

"I greet you with extreme pleasure," he said. "I am so delighted to be here on so many levels. I'm so grateful for the careful and methodical process this board took in selecting the next president of this college. I can tell you this doesn't happen all the time but it's fitting that Wiley College would do it first. It's fitting because this is the home of the Great Debaters, the A Cappella Choir and so many other blessings."

The speech and debate tournament kicks off this morning with sessions taking place at more than 50 locations across the Marshall campus.

Wiley College Vice President of Student Affairs Joseph Morale said Thursday that those wishing to come out and support the students, as well as observe the speech and debate teams in action, are welcomed.


To see this article in its original format in the Marshall News Messenger, please click here.