Debater Earns Spot at World Championships

Nov. 12, 2019 — Floria (“Flo”) Auerbach ’20 came to NMH as a New York state champion middle school debater. She joined the NMH Debate Society and quickly set her sights on qualifying for the high school World Individual Debate and Public Speaking Championships. 

After three years of effort, Flo achieved that goal. Early in her senior year, she won a regional tournament and snagged a coveted spot at the 2020 world championships in Shanghai. 

Flo’s drive propelled her from novice to advanced debater in her first year at NMH. She was the first ninth grader to be elected as a Debate Society officer and now serves as its president. 

But even as she also was chosen to sing with NMH’s Select Women’s Ensemble and landed leading roles in musical theater productions, her goal to debate on the world stage remained out of reach. Debate coach Peter Weis ’78 said, “Flo was expecting success much earlier and she had to learn how to deal with failure. It’s important to learn how to fit losing into becoming a champion.”

Flo said support from the NMH community has been a big part of her growth and success. “Mr. Weis believed in me,” she said. “I also sing and do theater, so I spend a lot of time with Sheila Heffernon (director of choral and vocal programs). She is a fierce advocate. I feel really lucky to have their support. The relationships we make here are closer in a way that you don’t get at other schools. There’s a culture of kindness. It’s a community where I feel accepted and safe.”

In her junior year, Flo’s focus shifted — from winning to simply doing her personal best. Her work in theater and singing helped her hone her voice and sense of humor. She recently chose a passage from David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day that included eight different accents. “Doing the accents and the drama that I brought to it came from my work in theater,” she said. It was that selection that helped win the tournament that earned her a spot in the world championships. 

Weis said, “Flo has found her voice. She has found her way. And I think she has found real joy in it.”

“NMH definitely challenged me and made me a much better thinker and speaker,” Flo said. “You have the ability to do so many things, both in and outside of class, and to use your time here to become a more well-rounded person. These are things I’m going to take with me wherever I go.”