New Era for Emory Debate

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For Emory student debaters, it is difficult to imagine a world without Melissa Maxcy Wade 72C 76G 96T 00T, who has served as the primary leader and champion of the university’s winning debate program for more than four decades.

Fortunately, they don’t have to. Wade retired this fall from her position as executive director of the Barkley Forum Center for Debate Education, but she will remain a strong voice in the field as president of the Glenn Pelham Foundation for Debate Education. 

Named for the founder of Emory’s Barkley Forum debate team, the Atlanta-based Pelham Foundation works with the university to help grow the Urban Debate League (UDL), the inner-city debate program started by Wade in 1985. She leaves the Barkley Forum in the hands of director Edward Lee, who has been with the team for ten years and participated in the Urban Debate League as a student.

“This is one of the richest careers you could have because you get to hang out with really awesome students who are on their way up,” Wade says. “My life is with students, and that’s the thing I’m going to miss the most.”

Since Wade assumed leadership of the Barkley Forum in 1972, Emory team members have won more than twenty national team championships and individual champion speaker awards, including the National Debate Tournament in 2010. 

Wade helped found the UDL to offset the inherent inequality in public, urban educational systems. She says there is a rich exchange between the Emory students who coach and those in the UDL; many of the six hundred alumni of the Barkley Forum stay involved.

“Since 1976, when I attended the Barkley Forum high school debate camp, you’ve been my hero and such a deep influence on my thinking and choices,” wrote George Gramling 80C on a special website created for Wade’s retirement. “How could I have known that meeting you and being part of the Barkley Forum at Emory would turn out to be one of the most defining and wonderful experiences of my life?”

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