Debater Makes NMH History
Jennifer Sutton


Feb. 1, 2018 — UPDATE: Congratulations to Ellery Halsey ’18, who joins Patrick Rochford ’19 as #NMH’s first and second debaters ever to quality for the World's Individual Debate and Public Speaking Championships! They’ll compete in South Africa this April. Halsey qualified as a result of her top-scoring performance at Choate in late January. 

Dec. 14, 2017 — Patrick Rochford ’19 of Litchfield, New Hampshire, is literally a world-class debater.

At a debate tournament at Buckingham Browne & Nichols in early December, he argued his way into the 2018 World Individual Debate and Public Speaking Championships, which will be held in Cape Town, South Africa, in April. It’s the first time an NMH debater has qualified for the annual competition, which includes student teams from dozens of countries.

Rochford, who was honored for his achievement at a recent all-school meeting in Memorial Chapel, says, “The news kind of shocked me.” 

That’s probably because the BBN tournament was only his second effort as an NMH debater. But there he was in a room with his teammate, two opponents, and a judge — arguing against using assassination of foreign leaders as a foreign policy, against decriminalizing prostitution while also criminalizing the purchase of sex, and against a resolution that adolescents should not have smartphones. Rochford’s individual performance in those three debates took him to a second-place finish in the tournament’s advanced category, and that earned him the invitation to the world championships.

“It’s a big honor,” says NMH Archivist Peter Weis ’78, P’13, who coaches the debate team. Weis describes Rochford as “an articulate current-events guy” who can “understand the bigger context.” Weis says that Rochford is “not only able to talk about an issue, but he’s also able to defend a position, even if it’s not the popular side of an argument.”

NMH competes in the Debate Association of New England Independent Schools and follows a parliamentary extemporaneous style of debate: Teams of two compete in three rounds, with a different topic for each round and only 10 minutes per round to prepare their arguments. “The topics are pretty wide-ranging, and they’re values-based,” Rochford says. “It’s nice when you have the opportunity to argue for something you actually believe in.” 

Rochford got interested in politics as a middle-schooler and discovered that debate could help him “express his views effectively,” he says. He started out watching old presidential debates on YouTube — “old” for Rochford is 2012 — and became a fan of former Congressman Ron Paul of Texas. “There was no outlet to talk about politics at my old school because a lot of kids weren’t interested,” Rochford says. Debate became the outlet. 

“Patrick is able to hammer his opponent with facts in a calm way, but he also cares,” Weis says. “It’s a rare debater who can combine logic with controlled passion for his side of an argument.”

Now, with the world championships coming up next spring, Rochford and Weis are beginning to explore the logistics of traveling to South Africa. “I’ve never left the country,” Rochford says, “so the first thing I’d have to do is get a passport.”

Photo: Glenn Minshall