Sadia Khan is a gold prize winner in the art of persuasion who can’t fully grasp how good she is no matter what argument people will use to convince her. She is sitting in the back row of her speech and debate class when a writer from the Courier enters the room to look for her. She’s surprised that the campus publication wants to profile her, but is ready to chat about her life-changing experiences at PCC.
Khan is a 16-year-old who skipped the last two years of high school to start college sooner. Even though her first year at PCC as a Biology major isn’t over yet, she’s already holding a Gold Award plaque from the Phi Rho Pi National Speech and Debate Tournament in the International Public Debate category.
“I don’t know if you have ever seen her debating,” speech coach at PCC Allan Axibal-Cordero said. “Man, not only [is] she smart but you like her while she does it. Even though she has a passionate tone, she never comes across as overly aggressive. It’s an X factor, it’s not something that could be taught, she’s naturally charismatic, and on top of that she’s intelligent.”
Last summer her father suggested for her to take the California High School Proficiency Examination (CHSPE) to finish high school and get, as she puts it, a “head start” in her career. As a first generation citizen born from Pakistani parents and raised in the wealthy community of San Marino—a city with one of the best school districts in the state—she accepted her father’s advice and passed the test.
“It was a last minute thing, I took the decision on a whim a little bit,” Khan said. “I didn’t tell anybody I was leaving, I just left. I miss my friends and they are a little bit confused but it was no big deal. I was doing regular at school, I just didn’t want to stay in high school for the full four years.”
She thrives at PCC and most of all she enjoys the freedom of college, being able to choose the classes she wants to explore instead of being in a more structured environment as her high school was. She attends classes everyday, taking math, chemistry and anthropology classes and is part of the Caduceus Club, a premedical club where professionals from the field come and speak to PCC students about what it means being a doctor and present the different specialties.
Khan started college last August with the idea of becoming a doctor, but she’s not sure anymore.
“I thought I would be done with my studies at 28 instead of 30,” she said. “But my mentality changed, now it’s it’s just about having more freedom and more opportunities to do the things I like.”
She has liked debating since high school, where she first joined the Speech and Debate team in order to open up more.
“I was very quiet and wanted to change that,” she said.
Pursuing this newfound passion, Khan joined the Speech and Debate team at PCC during the winter term, right after she learned there was one on campus.
“I haven’t looked back on it since then, I love it,” she said.
And people on the team love her back.
“I’m the first one who saw her debating,” debate coach Jay Arntson said about one of the first winter team meetings just a few months before the national competition, which took place in Washington D.C. during the spring break.
“I knew right away I had to focus on her because she could do really well,” Arntson said. “She has no ego, I’ve actually never heard her say something nice about herself.”
The International Public Debate was the largest event at the national contest in Washington D.C., with over 130 people competing for the gold medal. In just a few days Khan debated on topics such as the U.S. military presence in the South China Sea, patriotic correctness and private gun ownership. After seven rounds of debates she made it to the final and won against Natasha Calilung from Irvine Valley College, arguing that military drones are more productive than they are harmful.
“For four days I would wake up at 5:30 a.m. and then by the time I would be done it would be 8 p.m. and I would get food and go to sleep,” Khan said. “It was exhausting but also exhilarating.”
Debaters for this competition are assigned both the topic and the side they need to defend, so what they’re arguing for is not always what they personally believe in. Still, they must be convincing if they want to win.
“For these performances, regardless of what you believe in you have to be able to sell that message,” Axibal-Cordero said.
Khan’s debating style takes a rational approach.
“I don’t make people feel very emotional when I speak,” Khan said. “I mostly rely on logic and facts to back me up. I think my strength is being really logical but making it so that a regular person can understand it.”
Another advantage she has is that she’s fast; she makes quick counter arguments and always keeps in mind the big picture.
“Her first time doing a speech was more organized and cohesive and with more logical arguments than mine after a year of practice,” her teammate AJ Crawford said. “She works very hard and is extremely modest but she’s a fierce competitor.”
In order to see her in action the Courier gave her few minutes to prepare a persuasive speech that would convince us that leaving high school sooner to start college is a bad idea while she has been telling us the opposite for the whole interview.
She asked for a piece of paper and a pencil and after two minutes she delivered her speech on video.
Now that she has a gold award, there are two things that her coach Arntson says she must be careful about: not putting too much pressure on herself to live up to her accomplishments and getting burned out.
“[R]emember to have fun,” Arntson said. “Because at the end you need to feel that debating is something that is improving you and sometimes people forget that.”