Branksome Hall student Anisah Mahomed is one girl you don’t want to argue with.
Just ask her parents. Due to a time difference, they received a call at midnight from their 16-year-old daughter, telling them she was hauling back a trophy from British Columbia after being crowned international champion at the International Independent School Public Speaking and Debating Championships.
“My coach in the middle of the awards ceremony made me call them despite the fact that it was 12 o’clock at night,” Mahomed says. “I woke them up from bed, so they were kind of groggy and a little bit confused … but they were really, really happy.”
Mahomed was also recognized as top Canadian speaker at the event, which took place from Oct. 26–31 at the York House School in Vancouver. She and her teammates, Sonali Amarasekera and Clare Moffatt, helped lead Branksome Hall to be recognized as the top Canadian school for the second year and for the first time, top overall school in the competition.
Mahomed initially got involved in debating when her mom signed her up for a one-week course at Branksome Hall when she first arrived at the school, mainly to get her familiar with the grounds.
“I ended up really liking it, so I’ve been doing it since grade 7 and it’s been a passion of mine,” she said.
The Rosedale debater is no stranger to winning. In the past, she won the Canadian National Debating Championships and the Pan-American Debating Organization Championships as a speaker.
But with 166 competitors from more than 50 countries, eight rounds of competition and 32 judges, the International Independent School Public Speaking and Debating Championships is her biggest win yet.
Last year, she won top debater under 16 at the same event. This time around, Mahomed won as top parliamentary debater and received the Montreal Cup for top Canadian speaker and the Selywn House Trophy for top speaker overall.
She earned the top spot by advancing to the finals in persuasive speaking and parliamentary debating and finishing with the top average score.
While it’s nice to win, Mahomed said she also appreciated the cross-section of debaters at the event.
“Getting there and seeing kids from so many different countries, from places like Cyprus and Peru, it was a really fantastic experience just to meet the different types of people,” she said.
Despite the extensive preparation, she admitted the event was mildly nerve-wracking.
But don’t expect that to hold Mahomed back.
“There’s always a bit of nerves, but you channel it into excitement and positive energy,” she said confidently.
The event requires the debaters to be able to think on their feet. For example, at the parliamentary debate the participants meet their teammate and have 30 minutes to formulate their arguments, get to know their partners and prepare.
Mahomed said part of the reason she’s passionate about public speaking is because she sees it as a transferable skill.
“I really like the fact that I’m developing a life skill, that I’m learning how to speak on both sides of an issue,” she said.
While she certainly speaks with confidence and conviction, after the initial impression one realizes Mahomed is like many of her peers.
“When I’m not debating or arguing with people … I like to read,” she said. “I also like to hang out with my friends and I do a lot of community service work.”
She currently works with some of the younger debaters at Branksome Hall to help them develop their skills.
Mahomed has qualified for the World Individual Debating and Public Speaking Championship next year in Brisbane, Australia. She’s also part of Team Canada and will be flying there in January with six others to compete in the World Schools Debating Championships.
She said her coach Tracy Dalglish, her teammates and Branksome Hall all played a huge role in her success.
But she acknowledged that some of the help might have come from closer to home.
“My mother says I started debating or talking since the womb … I certainly learned a bit of my gift of gab from them,” she said with a laugh.