Learning to speak with confidence and clarity lies at the heart of the Stoneleigh-Burnham experience.

From our world-class Debate & Public Speaking Society to our weekly Housemeetings to our student government organization and our 10th grade rhetoric course, our students have unlimited opportunities to explore their opinions, develop their arguments, engage their voices, and practice self-advocacy.

The Upper School curriculum intentionally stresses presentation and public speaking skills, and every course from Design & Color to Global Technology offers numerous opportunities for girls to become comfortable presenting complex information in front of an audience. In 10th grade, all students are required to take our Rhetoric course.

For those who wish to go further with their skills, our Debate & Public Speaking Society is open to any girl interested, and competes throughout New England as part of DANEIS (Debate Association of New England Independent Schools). Twenty (and counting) Stoneleigh-Burnham students have ranked as World Competitors in Debate & Public Speaking.

Debate & Public Speaking Society

By participating in the Debate & Public Speaking Society, students will learn to speak with force and clarity. Members compete nationally and internationally in public speaking tournaments, planned cross-examination debates, and parliamentary extemporaneous debates. Stoneleigh-Burnham is a member of DANEIS.

Founded in 1981, the Society has a long history of excellence, but the tradition of debate and public speaking spans more than a century in Stoneleigh-Burnham’s history. Twenty (and counting) Stoneleigh-Burnham students have ranked as world competitors in debate and public speaking, and countless others have gone on to careers in law, education, advocacy, and government.

Coach: Karen Suchenski

Students Who Have Qualified for and/or Competed at the World Individual Debating and Public Speaking Championships

Stoneleigh-Burnham has qualified for Worlds for the past 9 consecutive years!

  • McKenna Goodson ’22
  • Joy Lundberg ’20 (attended the 2020 virtual tournament)
  • Jacqueline Morgan ’19 (attended the 2019 tournament in Toronto, Canada)
  • Julia Thayer ’18 (attended the 2018 tournament in Cape Town, South Africa)
  • Sophie Hathaway ’18 (attended the 2017 tournament in Sydney, Australia & the 2018 tournament in Cape Town, South Africa)
  • Clara Swartzentruber ’16 (attended the 2016 tournament in Pittsburg, PA) 
  • Claire Lane ’16 (attended the 2015 tournament in Hong Kong & the 2016 tournament in Pittsburg, PA)
  • Karen Mardini ’14 (qualified but did not attend the tournament)
  • Jane Logan ’14 (attended the 2013 tournament in Australia)
  • Bryna Cofrin-Shaw ’10
  • Emily Palmer ’06
  • Obehi Utubor ’05
  • Emma Nolan-Thomas ’04
  • Bethany Hubbard ’02
  • Alexandra Madden ’01
  • Kelley Stiles ’95
  • Stephanie McCusker ’94
  • Dionis Gauvin ’92
  • Julie Bastarache ’91
  • Christine Claffey ’88


Rhetoric is the ancient art of argumentation and discourse. People often disagree with each other, and this course will lead students down the path of civil discourse. By exploring the nature of shared and unshared assumptions, students will be able to engage in debate and persuasive speaking intelligently and politely. Students will use logical arguments based on inductive and deductive reasoning. They will learn to create an emotional reaction in an audience. They will also learn to project a trustworthy, authoritative, and charismatic image. When writing speeches, students will keep in mind the speaker, the content, and the listener. Listening skills will be stressed.

This course is required of all 10th graders.