Addressing a Generation
By Shanuka Kadupitiyage
Ceylon Today Features
Sayuni Masakorala, a former pupil of Musaeus College is a person of many talents. She was the House Vice Captain and the President of the English Debating Circle, while taking part in extra-curricular activities such as the drama circle, Model United Nations Club and the school’s Western Band. She has represented her school at all-island oratory competitions and placed first runner-up.
Outside of school, Sayuni was a former ‘Gavellier of the year’ of the Colombo Gavel Club, which is affiliated to Toastmasters. Talented in both the written and spoken word, she has also participated and emerged runner-up in essay competitions held by the American centre and Volzhskiy institute, Volgograd State University in Russia as well.
Choosing the Arts stream for her advanced levels, Sayuni who now practices as a debating coach, is currently waiting for admission into the Faculty of Law, University of Colombo.
In her free time, Sayuni likes to read books, listen to different genres of music and play music on her alto-saxophone and piano.
Ceylon Today reached out to Sayuni to learn more about her journey and what shaped her to be who she is today.
From quiet introvert to talented debater
“Initially I was a very introverted child,” she shared. “Let alone debate, I didn’t even have the confidence to speak in front of my school-mates without being shy. However, it has always been one of my dreams to speak to larger audiences and inspire them. My debating journey actually started when I realised that my dream is to inspire individuals.”
Sayuni’s first exposure to public speaking came around the time she was 12-years-old, when her father took her to watch a Toastmasters competition.
Sayuni told us, it was at that moment when, “I promised myself that I would stand on a stage and make speeches just like the contestants.”
And thus began young Sayuni’s journey as a public speaker. Joining the Colombo Gavel Club, Sayuni honed her skills as a communicator. Realising that “content is of utmost importance in relaying a message to the audience,” she began searching for avenues to broaden her horizons, which led her to her the teacher-in-charge of the English Debating Circle, a person whom she speaks of as a central figure in her debating journey.
“She suggested I join the Debating Circle and little did I know that this experience will have a strong impact on my future career and aspirations. Joining the Debating Circle was one of the best decisions that I would say I have ever made. I learnt that the knowledge I had prior to my debating journey was minute in comparison to the worldly knowledge that debating presented to me,” she explained.
“Debating taught me important concepts of meritocracy above any form of discrimination, accountability of stakeholders, the Criminal Justice system, deterrence and precedence which is applicable in the real world as opposed to theoretical book learning.
“It made me aware of pressing concerns with regards to patriarchy and stereotyping, body shaming, victim blaming in rape culture and even subjects considered taboo, like sexual orientation and gender identity issues, and made me realise that we are living in a world with so many boundaries which has divided us and needs to be bridged through discourse.
The vast amount of knowledge and experience the debating portal opened her up to, she shares, helped her in her educational activities and built her confidence while greatly contributing to her character development.
Facing a debate
Taking us through what it’s like to participate in a debating competition for an experienced debater like herself, she narrates, “Participating in a debating tournament is always nerve-wracking. Whether you are a newbie in debating or an experienced debater, the nerves always seem to emerge before a round. Prep time always makes us anxious.”
However, Sayuni was quick to point out that the adrenaline rush that she feels when it’s her chance to defend her case is exhilarating.
“Debating tournaments used to be held in grand scale on physical venues extending up to two days of preliminary debating before break rounds,” she explained. “Thus there was a lot of room for interaction and friendship though one might imagine a political scenario or a bloodbath when you hear the term ‘debating’”, she jokingly notes.
Debating during the pandemic
Sayuni also shared some of her experiences as a debater amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. She noted that while the chances of having physical interactions have reduced, “since all debating tournaments are now held virtually, more opportunities have also arisen.
“Instead of a decrease in the number of debating tournaments, we see an increase. More schools are also taking part in these tournaments from all over the island which was not a possibility during physical ones. In 2020, the Sri Lanka team was able to become runners-up in the ‘World Schools Debating Championship’ (WSDC) which was held virtually. Needless to say, there are both pros and cons of virtual debating tournaments. However, it’s a positive sign looking at the level of engagement.”
A message for those interested in debating
While some might think that being eloquent in English or having a powerful voice are important when starting out as a debater, Sayuni has some simple advice for youngsters aspiring to be like her “I don’t think there’s any special requirement for debating –the main ingredient for a confident debater would be passion. As long as you have a passion towards it, you will be able to eventually hone these skills with practice.
“There is also a common misconception that only those who want to be lawyers in the future would choose to engage in debating. I would say this notion is false,” she said pointing out that whatever a person’s ambition may be, debating will help a person build important skills such as structuring facts to defend their arguments, building confidence to rely on their expertise and conveying messages to an audience effectively.
Finding your passion
Sayuni has found her passion at a young age and has achieved great heights, becoming an inspirational figure for youth who intend to walk the same path. Sharing her views on the importance of finding your passion, Sayuni agreed that finding one’s passion as a youth is very important and emphasised that it’s even more important for one to not conform to norms and societal standards, if it means undermining one’s own dreams and passions.
“Once you find your passion you can align your goals and objectives so that you have an overall understanding of what you want to achieve in life. I would say, always dream big and no matter how many obstacles you run into, never undermine or change those big dreams. Instead, change your approaches and better align your goals with your dreams.”
As for her own journey she concludes, “Debating to me was a journey of growth, self-discovery and strength as it showed me that accepting victory is easy and accepting defeat is the hardest. And that’s a lesson that gave me courage to push through in life.”