Oxford graduate Serena has been a member of the ESU for six years, ever since the late Paul Hollely encouraged her to join after a round of the ESU-Churchill Public Speaking Competition. She now works in political communications in Westminster.
Tell us about how you became involved in the ESU.
My school’s debating club was small and student-run. We met every Thursday after school in the canteen to debate motions we made up and hadn’t done any ‘formal’ debating or competitions until we discovered the ESU. I did the full run of the ESU’s programmes, starting with the London Debate Challenge, which I entered in Year 7 – exactly 10 years ago this year – then the ESU-Churchill Public Speaking Competition and finally the Schools’ Mace in sixth form.
When I left school and started university, I kept in touch with the ESU through my membership and judged competitions both in London and Oxford, showing me what the other side of the fence was like!
What did you get out of taking part in the competitions?
So much. Besides the thrill of competing and forming a really close bond with school friends who also debated, I was learning a really important life skill: the ability to articulate your thoughts cogently and with clarity. Like any other skill, it is something that can be learnt and honed.
Whom do you admire and why?
This changes as and when I discover new people and read new things but right now, the person I admire the most is the journalist Dawn Foster who passed away recently. She wasn’t part of the usual journalism clique and yet made such a significant impact by writing so eloquently on the most pressing and important stories of our time based on very real, lived experiences.
What is your guilty pleasure?
The veggie marshmallows from M&S. I discovered them at the height of lockdown and I can get through packets in a week because of home working! It’s a very vicious cycle.
What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?
A fair few serious ones for sure but, as homage to my second-year university self who thought she was too good for footnotes, I’m going to say: know your sources. If you don’t, you’ll regret it when you’re running round the libraries in a city trying to find page numbers of books you’re quoting for your thesis!