Powell Takes the Prize

Powell Takes the Prize

Fulton winner has special flair for debate

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Winners of the prestigious Fulton Prize Debate at Boston College have included future bishops and barristers. But never in the 108-year history of the annual forensic competition had the coveted Fulton Medal been won by a freshman or by an African-American - until now.

Those firsts were both achieved by Mario Powell on April 11 when he won this year's Fulton Prize Debate before a standing-room-only crowd in Devlin Hall.

Mario Powell is the first freshman ever to win the Fulton Debate Prize.
The history major from Diamond Bar, Calif., nicknamed "The Minister" by debate squad teammates for the preacher's flair he brings to his oratory, teamed with junior Lisa Langdon of Manlius, NY, to win a debate on the Title IX law that mandates gender equity in school sports. The duo argued against the proposition that colleges should not be bound strictly by male and female enrollment numbers in deciding which sports to fund, but allowed a more flexible standard based on the student body's athletic interests and abilities.

Powell received the gold Fulton Medal as top speaker in the debate, and this month will have his name inscribed on the wall of the Fulton Debate Society Room in Gasson 305. Langdon received the silver Gargan Medal as second-place speaker for the second year in a row.

In winning the honor, Powell prevailed in an event with a gloried history at Boston College, where in the early years the annual debate was a highlight of the academic year. Winners of the Fulton Medal have included Lawrence J. Riley '36, who went on to be auxiliary bishop of Boston, and John J. Curtin Jr. '54, JD '57, who would later be president of the American Bar Association.

Powell said he does not necessarily consider himself a trailblazer. But he said his achievement makes a case against pigeonholing individuals based on preconceived notions of intellectual potential, and against diminished academic expectations for members of this or that minority group.

"People have a mindset about how certain people should act," said Powell. "I excel beyond people's expectations - teachers have told me that. Just because I'm black doesn't mean I'm supposed to act a certain way. I'm more than a number."

That Powell prevailed with a defense of the Title IX status quo was testament to his debating skills, because, he acknowledged, he didn't "necessarily agree" with the side he argued.

"What's so fun about debate is that you have to be able to argue passionately on both sides," he said. "It gives insight into how others might hold the positions they do. You have to make sure you know why you don't agree with something. For me, when I know why I don't agree with a position, it's easier for me to be passionate in arguing a position I don't agree with."

Too often on today's campuses, he observed, shouting takes the place of reasoned disputation. "You have people who argue political or religious issues, but have no meat to their arguments," he said. "It's like a couple of guys arguing whether Alex Rodriguez or Nomar Garciaparra is the better shortstop, but without statistics, only name-calling."

Born to an Air Force family, Powell discovered his love of debate at Loyola High School in Los Angeles. He competed then in the "Lincoln-Douglas" style of debate, a one-on-one form distinct from the "policy" style of the Fulton competition.

"I never liked 'policy' debate," he acknowledged. "I saw 'Lincoln-Douglas' as a 'man's' type of debate. My friends kidded me that I avoided policy because I wasn't any good at it. So I signed up for it here to prove them wrong."

One of the Fulton Debate judges, Instr. Ekaterina Haskins (Communication), cited the "enthusiasm and eloquence" Powell conveyed in a "rich and emotionally-charged" performance. "We need to continue fostering students like Mario, especially in areas such as debate, where intellectual excellence is valued," she said.


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