Champion Newark Student Debater, Rutgers University Vice Chancellor Marcia Brown Meet President Obama in The Oval Office

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NEWARK, NJ— “I see my future in your eyes,” exclaimed 17-year-old Shagun Kukreja, a high school debater from Newark, New Jersey, as she addressed a breakfast gathering of White House fellows, many of whom had been high school or college debaters themselves. Thus began a day for Kukreja that culminated in a visit to the Oval Office and a once-in-a-lifetime audience with President Barack Obama.Kukreja was part of a four-student high school debate delegation invited to the White House to celebrate the top competitors in the Chase Urban Debate National Championship tournament held April 22–25 in New York City. Kukreja, a rising senior at University High School in Newark, won numerous debate awards in various competitions as a junior before qualifying to represent New Jersey in the Chase tournament and ultimately garnering second place speaker in a field of 78 debaters from 19 cities across the United States.

Ever charming and engaging, President Obama inquired about the affirmative and negative arguments each debater advanced during his/her successful advocacy at the national championship tournament.

“The students answered President Obama’s questions with impressive poise and professionalism,” noted Marcia W. Brown, vice chancellor of Rutgers University in Newark and the adult delegate from the Jersey Urban Debate League (JUDL) who accompanied Kukreja on her visit to the White House. Involved in Newark debate for nearly three decades, Brown, a graduate of Rutgers-School of Law-Newark, currently serves as a board member of JUDL and has been instrumental in founding and guiding the Rutgers-Newark Debate Team, which met competitive success in its first outing in 2008, winning the collegiate tournament at the State University of New York – Binghamton.

“It was remarkable how comfortable and confident Shagun and her peers were in their conversation with President Obama, almost as if talking with the President were a routine occurrence. Even President Obama seemed amazed at the ease in which they interacted with him.”

The full delegation from the Jersey Urban Debate League (JUDL) included Casto Maldonado, president and chief executive officer of FOCUS Hispanic Center For Community Development, Inc.; Brent Farrand, executive director of JUDL; and Vernell Farrand, retired Newark Public Schools administrator. Representing the Atlanta Urban Debate League was debater Michael Barlow and adult delegate, James Roland, debate coach of Emory University.

From Chicago were debaters Misael Gonzalez and Kevin Hirn and adult delegate Les Lynn, executive director of the Chicago Debate Commission.

Other stops on their whirlwind trip to the nation’s capital included visits with United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Director of the White House National Economic Council Lawrence Summers, United States Senator Frank Lautenberg, and United States Congressman Donald Payne.

To learn more about the 2010 Chase Urban Debate National Championship tournament, visit

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Founded in April 2001, JUDL is dedicated to enhancing critical thinking, research and presentation skills for educationally underserved students of color by making academic competitive debate accessible to all high school and middle school students in its targeted districts in New Jersey – Newark, Orange and East Orange. Each year, thousands of students compete in urban debate leagues – afterschool academic debate programs that coach students to research, develop, and debate national policy proposals. Under the umbrella of the National Association for Urban Debate Leagues, JUDL has been able to assure that more than 2,200 inner city students have opportunities equal to their suburban counterparts in mastering the intellectual rigor of academic debate. The many successes of JUDL debaters support the notion that when the playing field is level, all students have the potential to make academic strides and become tomorrow’s leaders.


The Rutgers-Newark debate team was founded in 2008, and is sponsored by the School of Public Affairs and Administration and the Office of the Chancellor. The team is open to undergraduate students at the university. For information please contact Vice Chancellor Marcia Brown,