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$1.5 Million Endowment Gift

An alumni couple’s $1.5 million gift to Michigan State University’s debate team – the team’s largest gift ever received – ensures the nationally competitive program will enjoy ongoing scholarship and funding support for years to come.

The majority of funds from the new endowment will be used to support student scholarships for members of the debate team.

“This gift is a game-changer for the debate team, allowing us to expand our opportunities to innumerable future students,” said Casey Harrigan, director of the debate program. “Equally important is the legacy piece, ensuring that MSU Debate remains a permanent and significant institution at MSU forever, locking in all of the efforts and hard work of our alumni and staff over decades.”

A demanding activity requiring long hours of research, argument development and tournament travel, MSU has fielded debate teams off and on since the 1920s. An MSU debate team has qualified for the National Debate Tournament for the past 22 consecutive years and teams earned national championships in 2004, 2006 and 2010 – making MSU’s debate program one of the nation’s most elite.

“Developing critical thinkers could be higher education’s most vital mission, and few activities forge such skills as sharply as does competitive debate,” MSU Interim President John Engler said. “The Spartan debate team for many years has been a bright point of pride and we are grateful for the generosity of these donors, whose gift ensures our students will continue to enjoy such opportunities to excel.”

The donors wish to remain anonymous, but one competed in high school debate and in MSU Debate for a year. Her husband was not a debater, but has a strong liberal arts background. Both view debate as something that benefits participants long after graduation, no matter what their major or career path.

“The benefits of being on the debate team extended into my professional life in the banking industry,” the alumna said. “The ability to present ideas clearly and persuade others all stems from my debate experience.”

Along with the competitive team schedule, the debate program sponsors a high school tournament every December, the Spartan Classic Debate Tournament and a high school summer camp, the Spartan Debate Institute.

“We are grateful the donors wanted to invest in the lives of students for generations to come,” said Cynthia Jackson-Elmoore, dean of the Honors College. “This gift is a testament to the importance of high-impact educational experiences, many of which happen outside the classroom. The analytical and persuasion skills that debaters develop and hone serve them well beyond their time on the team.”

The gift supports Empower Extraordinary, MSU’s capital campaign that continues through Dec. 31 and has raised more than $1.75 billion in support, including the addition of 3,500 student scholarships.

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