By Lizzie Wilcox

Senior Spencer George has been a member of University of Miami’s debate team since the fall semester of his freshman year. He started debating a little in high school, but really got into it once he came to UM. George just wrapped up his debate career over spring break at the American Debate Association Nationals, where he was one of three finalists for the Julia Burke Award.

“It’s an award given to individuals who are successful in debate competitively and also focus on reaching out to others, like building the community,” George said. “It’s a way for the community not only to recognize just competitive success, but also individuals who are going out and trying to help the community advance and progress.”

Patrick Waldinger, assistant director of the debate team, nominated George for this award.

“I know all about the values and spirit of the ADA, and I can tell you that Spencer George completely embodies what the ADA is all about,” wrote Waldinger in a letter to the Julia Burke Committee nominating George for the award. “There was never a debater I coached that deserved the Julia Burke Award more.”

Waldinger describes his relationship with George as unique because before he coached George, he judged him. During George’s freshman year in 2010, Waldinger coached against him and was a judge in debates.

In his letter to The Julia Burke Award Committee, Waldinger listed many of George’s accomplishments throughout the years, including reaching the semifinals at his first tournament. The same year, he reached the octofinals at the JV/Novice national tournament and won a tournament held at University of Central Florida. Once he joined the JV division, he made the octofinals at a tournament at West Point, quarterfinals at Georgia State University, was the champion of the South East Cross Examination Debate Association Regional and was a semifinalist at the ADA National Tournament.

Although George began college in 2010, he is not a fifth year senior. In fact, he is graduating after only three years of college. After George’s freshman year, he took two years off for his Mormon mission in Compton, California. According to Steinberg, during this time he practiced reading and writing by himself and by the time he came back to UM, his skills had improved.

George has made an impact both in and out of tournaments. The director of the debate team, David Steinberg, gives credit to George for the “wonderful team culture.” 

“I’ve been here 25 years; I don’t know if I’ve ever had a team that relied so much on each other, that helped each other so much,” Steinberg said.

Waldinger said that when he first started at UM, the debate team only had a few members, but once George came back from his mission, he recruited new debaters and kept everyone excited and motivated.

“Spencer has been invaluable in creating a team culture that focuses on teamwork and helping out everyone else,” Waldinger said.

George spoke of the debate team as an intergenerational family, as the alumni are always participating and helping out.

“I’ve loved every second of it,” he said.

What’s next for this accomplished debater? Law school. According to Steinberg, law schools are fighting over George and offering him scholarships.

“He’s probably going to go to Cornell on a full ride and they’re going to pay him a stipend on top of that,” Steinberg said.

George said that he is hoping to study business law, possibly with an international focus.

“I can’t wait to really get involved in the law and impacting public policy,” he said.  “I hope I can use the foundation I’ve gained to go out and make the world a better place.”