Skip to content
Success Academy Blog >

A Debate Family Reunion

When Silma Bathily got the call from his sister Aminata asking him to come help out the SA debate team at an important tournament, he knew that he couldn’t refuse. It was the last tournament of the year, arguably the most competitive — and he suspected it would be exciting to return to his old debate stomping grounds. 

“I was looking at kids in the same position that I was in a couple of years ago, trying to learn the same arguments that I know now, and that I’m good at. It was a unique perspective to see — it was fun!” 

The Bathily siblings are something like debate royalty at SA HSLA. Silma’s older sister Aida went on to a successful debate career at Wake Forest University before graduating with an economics degree and starting grad school at Duke University, and Silma is right behind her — he’s a sophomore at Wake Forest who recently declared a major in electrical engineering. He continues to be an avid debater. 

“Debate has played a large role in my success in college, especially the problem-solving aspect, which is so useful for engineering coursework. Debate opened my mind to the idea that there are different ways to get a point across. It taught me that you can always learn more!” 

Now, it was Aminata’s turn to travel as a high school junior to one of the most prestigious competitions of the season: the Harvard National Debate Tournament. Every year, the nation’s best and brightest debaters converge on Harvard for this tournament, and SA’s debate program manager Aubrey Semple has brought SA high school (and even middle school!) scholars there for years, with consistently impressive results. 

It was just a few years ago that Silma himself had made it to the round of 64 (triple-Octafinal) in the Varsity Lincoln Douglas section, out of a contestant pool of more than 240 elite competitors. Now, returning as a mentor, he focused on helping SA scholars creatively tailor their arguments to their opponents. He gathered resources on the topic — NATO and cybersecurity — and pushed the younger scholars to think outside the box. Silma says he enjoyed learning right alongside the team; one of his favorite aspects of debate is that you can never learn enough. 

“Aminata has been doing debate for a long time, but I like to push her and her classmates to go that extra distance, to professionalize their arguments and just make themselves stand out.” 

Silma helps coach Aminata and Keziah ahead of their next round

In the Varsity Policy Debate, Aminata was a Double Octafinalist with her classmate Keziah Williams. But the stand-out moment of the tournament, at least for Silma, was seeing the impact of the supportive debate community come full circle.

“There are always mentors in debate — it is a community where people just love to learn and to support each other. There was one coach there, Daryl Burch, who when I was in high school had been one of my judges but also was a mentor to me … the first round, SA was debating his top team, and we ended up beating him! It was a great moment.”

After a successful weekend — see results below — the SA high school debaters wrapped up their season. They have summer debate camp to look forward to, with the spirit of continuous improvement that is so inherent in the debate community driving our scholars to prepare for an even more accomplished season next year. 

Now that Silma has experience on both sides of the debate table, he has some advice to offer, which is likely to be appreciated by any SA scholar: 

“Keep reading! Your books will never fail you. Always be interested. There’s always more to learn.” 


Over 100 teams representing 30 schools from 12 states participated in the Varsity Policy category at the Harvard National Debate Tournament. The students debated whether the U.S. government and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) should increase their security commitments to emerging technologies. 

Here are some notable winners from the event:  

Top Speakers (Novice) 

1st Place – Ilham Moumouni (SA Harlem East) 

2nd Place – Brielle Vasquez (SA Hudson Yards) 

3rd Place – Florence Norman (SA Harlem West) 

4th Place – Linda Lin  (SA Hudson Yards) 

5th Place – Amira Miller (Network Club) 

6th Place – Elijah Gilhuys (SA Ditmas Park) 

7th Place – Theron McKenzie (SA Ditmas Park) 

8th Place – Firdaus Ouri-Bodi (SA Harlem East) 

9th Place – Prince Adjovi (SA Harlem East) 

10th Place – Ariel Teller (Network Club) 

Top Speakers (Open) 

1st Place – Aminata Ngom (SA Harlem North Central) 

2nd Place – Saide Feliz (SA Harlem North Central) 

3rd Place – Ishmael Bajaha (SA Harlem North Central) 

4th Place – Tatiana O’Neal (SA Harlem West) 

5th Place – Rachel Balyasnaya (SA East Flatbush) 

Top Teams (Novice) 

1st Place – Ouro-Bodi-Moumouni (SA Harlem East) 

2nd Place – Gilhuys & McKenzie (SA Ditmas Park) 

3rd Place – Prince Adjovi (SA Bronx

4th Place – Chen & Mondal (SA Hudson Yards) 

5th Place – Vasquez & Lin (SA Hudson Yards) 

Top Teams (Open) 

1st Place – Ngom & Bajaha (SA Harlem North  Central)

2nd Place – Camara & Feliz (SA Harlem North Central) 

3rd Place – Adams & Balyasnaya (SA East Flatbush 

4th Place – Lee & Blair (SA Hudson Yards) 

5th Place – Ugoh & Pedro (SA Harlem North Central) 

Novice Policy Debate: 

  • Sarah Brites and Nikita Paas (SA Hudson Yards) – Quarterfinalists
  • Ayesha Adams and Rachel Balyasnaya (SA East Flatbush) – Octafinalists

Varsity Policy Debate: 

  • Ryan Peters and Joseph Leiva (HSLA-Manhattan) – Octafinalists
  • Aminata Bathily and Keziah Williams (SA HSLA-Manhattan) – Double-Octafinalists




Written by Success Academy April 7, 2023

Subjects: Debate Alumni

Enroll your child

We’re now accepting K-6 applications for the 2024-2025 school year. 

Apply Now

Work with us

Build your career while making an impact at Success Academy.