OVERCOMING YOUR FEARS
Tommy Seagull isn’t afraid of using his voice, particularly when it comes to speaking up for the rights of others. Due to start as a pupil barrister later this year, he also acted as a representative for the pro-bono School Exclusion Project, advocating for the parents of children who have been permanently excluded from mainstream schooling. But he hasn’t always been so confident: ‘the first time I ever debated in public was absolutely petrifying,’ he says. ‘All I can remember is my knees feeling like absolute jelly – I honestly thought they were about to give way.’
Tommy first became involved with the English-Speaking Union’s debating competitions at 13, when he took part in the London Debate Challenge as part of a team from St Bonaventure’s school. Five years later, in Year 13, he won the English-Speaking Union’s Schools’ Mace debating competition. He credits both competitions with helping him to ‘develop an ability to think analytically and, more importantly, to articulate that analysis clearly, coherently and persuasively.’ And it is these skills, he says, that have been absolutely transformative in giving him the confidence he needed to pursue his passions.
Winning the final of the International Schools’ Mace was a standout moment for Tommy. He took to the stage to debate Iran’s programme of nuclear development and, whilst he admits it was ‘pretty intimidating for a 17-year-old,’ he still thinks it was ‘one of the best things I’ve ever done,’ giving him the confidence he needed to apply for university and, later on, the Bar.
He believes that ‘every school child should learn how to debate, not just as a fringe activity, but as something that’s absolutely integral to the national curriculum.’ He cites debate as a powerful tool for social mobility – ‘If you’re able to articulate your thoughts it makes it more difficult to be excluded by the big and the powerful, so the ability to debate has a direct impact on whether we – ordinary people – are able to affect the issues in our lives.’
Outside of English-Speaking Union competitions, Tommy successfully campaigned to be elected as the deputy young mayor of Newham in 2008, a role he took in order to challenge himself and his original belief that mainstream politics couldn’t help ‘the ordinary person’. ‘Being the deputy young mayor of Newham proved me wrong,’ he says.
It taught me that actually, ordinary people can be the agents for extraordinary change and that you don’t have to be a big, powerful figure to have your voice heard if you just stand up and believe you have something to contribute to the discussion.
Do you believe in the transformative power of debate?
If, like Tommy, you believe in the transformative power of debate and oracy skills, please consider supporting our work. Our programmes enhance social mobility, enabling young people to acquire the skills they need to take an active part in society and to achieve their full potential.
Help give more young people the speaking and listening skills and cross-cultural understanding they need to thrive