Cayden (left) and Maren (right) are debate partners and have been doing debate since middle school. They are the co-captains of Central’s Debate Team. (Cayden Mayer and Maren Lien)
Cayden (left) and Maren (right) are debate partners and have been doing debate since middle school. They are the co-captains of Central’s Debate Team.

Cayden Mayer and Maren Lien

Student Spotlight: Central’s Debate Team Captains

February 10, 2021

Cayden Mayer and Maren Lien are extraordinary debaters. They have earned multiple achievements, such as being two of the top eight debaters in Minnesota and the best debaters in the Junior Varsity division in all of St. Paul. Hear their stories and thoughts on debate!


What is your name, age, grade, and what high school do you go to?

Cayden: Hi, I’m Cayden Mayer. I’m 16, a sophomore at Central High School, and the co-captain for Central’s debate team.

Maren: Hi! I’m Maren Lien. I’m 15, a sophomore at Central High School, and the other co-captain for Central’s debate team.

What is debate?

C: Policy debate is a form of debate where there are two teams of two who follow a set structure with a total of eight speeches. Every year, there’s a new topic, and within that, teams can create their own case, which is essentially a group of evidence that falls within the topic. You also debate what goes against the topic, and you attend tournaments and practices to improve your debate skills.

M: I’d like to add that the yearly topic is usually very prominent in the US or the global world, and while you’re debating, you learn a lot about that topic and the kinds of things that are going on in the government about that subject.

C: Yeah, the 2020-2021 debate season topic was the criminal justice system, and the 2021-2022 debate topic is the US’s water resources.

Do you think it’s important for high schoolers to be talking about serious topics?

M: Oh yeah! The format of debate allows us to meet up with a lot of different high schoolers from different schools. As a result, we’re exposed to different ideas and perspectives while debating. It just provides a very in-depth, rounded understanding of how the yearly topic is shaping society today and who and what it impacts.

C: It’s really important as well because many American high schoolers will become voters when they turn 18. Debate teaches you how to form evidence-based opinions through research and listening so that when you turn 18 and become an eligible voter, you already have some basic knowledge based on evidence and real-world topics. This way, voting for a candidate does not become this massive overwhelming thing where you have to do a bunch of research for every single policy.

Do you think debate is important for our high school, and do you think people should join high school debate? Why or who not?

C: Policy debate is a great extracurricular for high schoolers because not only do you learn a bunch about these real-world topics, but you also get really good at public speaking. In your average debate round, there’s only going to be about four to five people in the room, which means it’s a great way to get your bearings and get comfortable speaking in front of people before you get put in front of an actual crowd. You also get good at writing papers and argumentative essays because that’s kind of what debate cases are. You also get good at writing essays because you have to put your words and thoughts on paper before giving your debate speeches. Debate is a really good way to improve your knowledge of the real world and improve your skills for high school.

M: Yeah, and to that point, debate also helps improve strategic thinking because you have to understand what is going on in the debate, and you have to respond to it and ask questions about it within the given structure of the debate round. Debate helps grow people’s strategic thinking abilities, abilities to think about making an argument, abilities to look at evidence, and abilities to structure their thoughts.

C: To add to the idea of critical thinking, much debate can seem quite overwhelming if you look at very high-level policy debate. However, the Twin Cities has a lot of very structured ways to get into policy debate and teach you those critical thinking skills without overwhelming you with a vast amount of evidence. But you are still given a manageable amount of evidence, so you still gain that real-world knowledge.

Could you share a great experience that you’ve had with policy debate?

M: I would say my favorite experiences are talking with our opponents, especially at in-person tournaments, but also through virtual settings. Most people we meet through debate are super nice and intelligent. It’s really fun to discuss things with them in and out of debate rounds. You get a sense of the community within debate and a sense of the people who go to different high schools, especially ones outside the Central region. Those are my favorite experiences because I get to talk to some very interesting and fun people.

C: Yeah, some of my favorite experiences were last year because of the in-person aspect, and while it’s super duper fun online, a lot of the community aspects that we’re really hoping to do are so much better in-person. Last year, we did an away tournament at Concordia College, near Moorhead. We had some great times on the bus going over different arguments from the teams, joking around, and discussing the real-world implications of the arguments we were talking about.

M: Yeah, the people on the Central debate team are some of the best people at Central because they’re so welcoming, helpful, intelligent, and supportive.

Could you share a downside of debate that you’ve experienced?

M: One experience stuck out recently. During this season, some debaters got a little carried away with the arguments they were making and forgot the real-world implications of the things they were saying. This doesn’t happen often, but sometimes careless things slip out that can be hurtful or offensive. Luckily, we’ve only experienced that once or twice.

C: Yeah, in general, the debate community is very supportive, and there are really good ways to talk to trusted adults in the community whenever something like that does happen, but it’s important to respect that we are discussing serious topics. The one downside I’d bring up is that debate can be very competitive and stressful. It’s a very competitive extracurricular activity, an example being when the regular season ends around December. If you’re competitive, you can continue through mid-January, which is a great thing because you get to do more policy debate, but it can also be stressful. But it’s still nice, especially on our team, because we have such a supportive community, so even if people aren’t as competitive, they’re still rallying together to see that everyone who is competitive has the resources and advice they need to do well at competitive tournaments.

How far did you both get at some of your recent tournaments?

M: At State, we got to Quarter-Finals along with another JV team from Central, and then at City Champs, two JV teams clinched the championship at the JV level.

Would that make you both the best debaters in the St. Paul JV division?

C: Us and three other Central debaters.

How did you both become two of the top eight debaters in the state of Minnesota?

M: Well, most of the credit goes to our English teacher in 7th and 8th grade, Ms. H, who ran debate class during the day and sometimes did tournaments afterward. This pushed us to continue through high school.

C: Yeah, Central debate has this amazing community, and the captains and everyone who’s at the JV/Varsity level work to make sure everyone who’s joining the team has some great results at a few of their earlier tournaments. It’s encouraging to see those results, and that kind of support from other Central debaters at some of the earlier tournaments my freshman year fueled a competitive flame. It made me want to work a lot harder to get better and more competitive with debate, and that was what got me going.

If you could make a pitch to Central students as to why they should join Central’s debate team, what would you say to them?

M: It is a great way to meet people within and outside Central. It’s such a supportive community, and it’s a great way to learn about the issues that are happening right now and how we can reach out through the government or other means to fix or alleviate those issues.

C: My plug for debate is that with everything that’s going on in our world, talking about something as important as water resources and its impact on everyone in our communities and across the globe is really important. It’s important to reach out to elected officials and have the opportunity to discuss something relevant to so many people. Debate is also great for college scholarships and essay writing skills.

Any last words?

C: Reach out to Steven Jents, Maren, or me if you’re interested in joining! My email is [email protected]

M: And my email is [email protected]

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