McKenna ’22 Receives First Place Award at World Individual Debating & Public Speaking Championships

McKenna ’22 was recently awarded First Place in the After Dinner Speaking category and Second Place in Interpretative Reading at the World Individual Debating and Public Speaking Championships. The championships were held virtually from South Korea this year, and included the participation of 120 students from 11 countries across eight time zones. 

The competition began on April 11 with asynchronous rounds in all categories. Synchronous rounds began in earnest on April 23. Grand Finals began on the morning of April 26, for which McKenna qualified for two of the final categories: After Dinner Speaking and Interpretative Reading.

McKenna debated for the first time last year, when she joined SBS as a tenth grader. She says last year’s Rhetoric class with Karen Suchenski, who leads the SBS Debate and Public Speaking Program, initially piqued her interest in the competitive side of public speaking. Last year, McKenna participated in a summer speech intensive at SBS and in the fall of 2020, she was the overall high score winner at her second U.S. tournament. McKenna qualified for the 2021 World Championships after her first international competition.

McKenna chose to focus her satirical award-winning After Dinner Speech on an imagined online political auction, and she took on the role of a conservative auctioneer who tries to sell items stolen from the U.S. Capitol during the January 6 Insurrection. In preparation for her After Dinner Speech, she studied the speech patterns of actual female auctioneers. 

In the weeks leading up to the competition, Karen, Karen’s daughter Claire (an alumna of SBS and a 2016 Worlds competitor), and the members of SBS’s Debate & Public Speaking Society helped McKenna practice. 

“I’m grateful to the past SBS Worlds competitors, my coach, and my current teammates for offering me support and cheering me on,” said McKenna. “Public speaking has helped me develop my voice and raise bigger questions.”

According to Karen Suchenski, no other US competitors made it to the Grand Finals in any speech category. “McKenna presented two speeches in the Grand Finals, representing both SBS and the entire American team,” said Karen, who has been teaching at SBS for the past decade. In her tenure, Karen has seen SBS qualify for the World Individual Debating and Public Speaking Championships for the past nine consecutive years, a testament to the strength of the program. 

To learn more about SBS’s debate program, visit To learn more about SBS’s Speak Up Debate & Public Speaking summer camps, visit