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Tavis Smiley Tavis Smiley: IU Debate Alumnus 1982-1986 Tavis Talking

Smiley was a high school standout debater who transitioned to Indiana University Bloomington under the auspices of acheiving something great. He did that and more. Debate served as one important catalyst in Smiley's life, improving his public speaking, argumentation, and political advocacy skills. With every public presentation, speech, and show that Tavis takes part, a little bit of hoosier debate shines through.

"Joyce Oatess, now chairperson of Maconaquah’s English Department, taught Tavis Smiley in English and psychology courses. A member of the debate team, Smiley “loved to argue” any issue, Oatess said. But Smiley always ended on good terms with whomever he was debating, she added. 'He would never damage your friendship.'" (http://www.iuk.edu/~koocm/apr04/Tavis.html

"A member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Smiley attended Indiana University on a debate scholarship, no doubt; but surprisingly was an average student.  "I enjoyed the intellectual rigor of going back and forth with professors. I was never turned on by the actual process of doing the coursework I just enjoyed being around people who were smarter than I was and learning and growing.   I did a lot of that during my college years."  Yet despite his modest account of his college career, Smiley was more than average.  While honoring his scholarship as a member of the debate team, he also served actively in student government and worked for both the chancellor and vice president of the university as well as the mayor of Bloomington, IN."(http://www.black-collegian.com/issues/1999-08/tsmiley.shtml)

Tavis Smiley Show: Interview with Faith Ford

Ford: Did you do debate?
Tavis: I did debate in college. I went to Indiana University on a debate scholarship; I did speech team in high school, which - I got pretty good at that. And then I got a debate scholarship as a result of that to go to Indiana University. So I was on the debate team at IU for four years.
Ford: I bet you were good, too.
Tavis: Oh, very good. Very good.
Ford: I wouldn't have wanted to go into a room and compete with you.
Tavis: No, you don't want to debate me.
Ford: No, no.
Tavis: You really don't want to debate me.

Quotations from What I Know for Sure: My Story of Growing Up in America

Tavis What I know for sure


“I had a generous scholarships from being on the debate team. (p. 165)

“I joined the IU debate team my freshman year and began traveling to tournaments, arguing the intricate points of policies such as GATT, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade". (p. 144)

"Traveling with the debate team to the major universities in Ohio, Michigan, and Nebraska, I argued esoteric policy issues, reading for the first time in my life magazines like Time and Newsweek, competing and sometimes besting guys from Harvard, Princeton, and Yale."  (p. 147)






Tavis Donates $100,000 To Wiley College Debate Team

Deafening cheers and thunderous applause filled the overflowing Alumni Gymnasium at Wiley College for the 125th baccalaureate and commencement convocation Saturday morning.
The gym was filled wall to wall with friends, families, alumni and supporters of the historically black college who came to see their loved ones walk across the stage and receive their degrees.
Broadcaster, author, publisher and host of Tavis Smiley and the Tavis Smiley Show, Tavis Smiley, delivered the commencement speech. He said after he was approached to deliver the speech, it was a fairly easy decision for him.
"Wiley was an easy choice for me. I was on the debate team when I went to college at Indiana University so debate is one of my first loves, so obviously anything to come and support the Wiley debate team is good, and I'm happy to do it," he said.
This led to a big announcement during his graduation speech. Smiley announced that he would donate $100,000 to the 2014-2015 season of the debate team to a standing ovation.
"I was told to never go to somebody's house for a celebration without bringing a gift, so I am humbled today to share with you a gift that I have brought to Wiley, a gift for your debate team, your national championship debate team," he said. "For the 2014-2015 debate season, I am honored and humbled today to present a check for $100,000."

- Marshallnews.com May 4, 2014

Tavis and the Advancement of National Political Discourse

All American Presidential Debates

In 2007, Smiley made television history as the moderator and executive producer of the All-American Presidential Forums on PBS, the first primetime television Democratic and Republican presidential debates with panels exclusively comprised of journalists of color. (http://www.tavistalks.com/tavis)

All-American Presidential Forums on PBS: Democratic Candidates

All-American Presidential Forums on PBS: Republican Candidates

Examining a political debate

Interview of Denzel Washington about The Great Debaters




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Last updated: 01 September 2015
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