Debate Champion Prizes Time at the Library

Clare Bradley competes at the NSDA tournament.

Clare Bradley competes at the NSDA tournament. Photo courtesy of the National Speech & Debate Association (NSDA).

Age brings wisdom — even for a stellar teen debater. 

Clare Bradley took occasional childhood trips to the Johnson County Library with family or a babysitter. But the 2023 Shawnee Mission South High School graduate didn’t gain a full appreciation of the Library until she gravitated to the Lenexa branch and Central Resource Library when she began driving. 

She recognized the importance of Library services, such as providing tax forms. But the pretty, peaceful surroundings also provided the perfect atmosphere for school work. The Library was a home away from home. 

“It’s just a good place to reset my brain,” she said. 

That focus paid off in a big way when Bradley and partner Brooklynn Hato came away champions in the policy debate category at the National Speech & Debate Association tournament in June. 

The competition in Phoenix involved more than 6,000 high school students from more than 1,300 schools. The question Bradley and Hato tackled concerned security cooperation within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. 

The two young women were partners for three years, and they entered their final season coming off a win at the National Catholic Forensic League national tournament in Washington, D.C., at the conclusion of their junior year. 

Fittingly enough, the partners met at the Central Resource Library for a confab going into their senior year competition. 

“We had the time and space and that little side room to be like, ‘Here’s what we want to do, and here's how we're going to get it done,’” Bradley said, “which we couldn't exactly anticipate the big finality it led up to.” 

The Library provided Bradley a much-needed separation from a bedroom that had doubled as a classroom and personal space during the pandemic. 

“I felt like I developed a healthier balance between — here's the time and space where I need to be working and be productive — and then when I'm at home, I know I can be like, ‘This is my me time. This is my chill time.’” 

Bradley has a friend group that shares her love of the Library. Even during the summer, she had a chance encounter with some friends. They were all heading into the Library to check out books before heading to work. 

Bradley is attending the University of Southern California on a debate scholarship. (Hato is attending the University of Kansas on a debate scholarship.) 

Bradley is happy with the campus libraries. One has floors differentiated by the noise level of the users, and another has multiple below-ground levels to house its collection. Bradley said it would be cool to get a library job. 

Bradley can see planting roots in Southern California because of the job opportunities and natural surroundings. She entered her freshman year planning on majoring in chemical engineering with an eye toward a career in environmental advocacy. 

“But I’m very indecisive,” she said. “So we'll just see where the world takes me.”