BATH TWP.: Next month, Revere High School senior Edwin Zhang will compete in a national Lincoln-Douglas debate in Indianapolis.
Named after the series of senatorial debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, the format pits two opponents who debate a philosophical proposition or policy recommendation. This year’s resolution for the National Forensic League tournament is: “A government has the obligation to lessen the economic gap between its rich and poor citizens.”
Teams research the resolution and prepare their argument, but there’s a catch.
“You don’t really know what side you’re going to be taking until you get to the round,” said Zhang, co-president of Revere’s speech and debate club. “In the average tournament, you’re going to debate each side twice or so. You get good exposure to both sides.”
Zhang’s teachers say that while he’s a thoughtful and accomplished speaker, he’s also an excellent listener, which is why he was named a 2012 Beacon Journal Star Student.
“Edwin’s sometimes-quiet demeanor is not based out of shyness or a lack of insight; it is based out of respect to others and their viewpoints,” wrote his English teacher, McClain S. Hayes.
His history teacher, Jeff Fry, also noted Zhang’s respect for his classmates’ opinions, which he considered before offering his own.
“Edwin preferred to listen to his classmates, learn from them, and participate when needed,” Fry wrote. “His insight and critical-thinking ability became evident during conversations concerning current events and other divisive topics.”
Zhang is the American-born son of Chinese immigrants. He grew up speaking Mandarin Chinese at home, but English everywhere else.
He considers both languages his first language, although he said his Chinese is conversational and lacks the rhetorical sophistication that he brings to debate.
Because of his facility with both languages, he was asked to tutor a Chinese third-grade girl this year.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “She’s really bright. She’s picking up English really fast.”
Zhang said his friends are amazed to hear the difference between his normal conversational speech and his rapid fire debate style.
“I talk pretty fast,” he said.
But not about himself, according to Fry.
“Edwin Zhang is a humble young man who would never boast publicly about his accomplishments,” Fry wrote. “Few would know that Edwin is recognized nationally for his piano concertos and solo performances.”
Zhang said he has been playing since he was 5 years old.
“I didn’t enjoy it very much when I was 5,” he said. “I enjoy it now, so I guess as I’ve grown up, it’s just something I’ve learned to love.”
In ninth grade, he received a Carnegie Hall-National Achievement Program Gold Medal in piano.
His freshman year, he also gave a piano performance in the 400-seat Reinberger Chamber Hall at Severance Hall in Cleveland through an intensive two-week summer music program at Kent State University.
He takes private lessons and plays for competitions, festivals and examinations for various organizations that test different skills.
He has received the highest rating of “Superior” from the National Federation of Music Clubs. He’s preparing now for an examination for the American College of Musicians.
Zhang also has made his mark as a three-time Science Olympiad state gold medalist.
He participated in chess club, track and field and cross country during his high school years. At 6 feet tall, he also enjoys pickup basketball games.
“I play center, I guess,” he said. “I like hanging out and grabbing all the easy baskets.”
He’s headed to Yale University in the fall.
“Right now, I’m looking into economics as a major, but it’s not set in stone,” Zhang said. “I’d like the chance to explore when I’m there.”