Arpan Bagui did not grow up arguing with his parents, trying to win them over in a quest for a new toy or a sweet snack, or trying to convince them that he might one day become a lawyer.
Instead, he was quiet, shy and measured.
But, middle school brought out Arpan’s gregarious side, and he grew comfortable with public speaking.
It wasn’t until he entered King High School, however, where he boasts a 4.0 grade-point-average in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, that he realized he had a penchant for something he had always eschewed.
“I knew I liked speaking,” the 16-year-old K-Bar Ranch resident says, “but debate seemed a little intense. I didn’t expect it, but once I started doing it, I felt like this was my thing.”
After a number of impressive debate performances and tournament wins, including a second-place finish at an event at Yale University in New Haven, CT, last fall, Arpan, now a junior at King, was selected to the USA Debate Team, making him one of only two dozen students in the country to earn that designation.
After applying — along with 150,000 other high school students across the country — Arpan didn’t think much of it. “A crapshoot,” he called it. “I was just throwing it out there.”
But the National Speech & Debate Association picked him for the rigorous USA Debate Team process that included sending a video of Arpan giving a speech and writing a few essays.
After passing through each level successfully, Arpan made it onto the USA team with only 23 others.
“That was pretty awesome for me,” he says. “I really like representing Tampa, and usually the people chosen for this are from bigger states like Texas and California and the northeast. I was very surprised they took someone from Florida.”
Half of those chosen, with Arpan being one of them, will train on the USA developmental team, while the others will compete internationally on the primary team of 12. Arpan, the vice president of the Debate Club at King High, trains with the Team USA debate coaches via Skype and also will represent the team at some upcoming competitions.
Arpan, who also attended Clark Elementary in West Meadows, began honing his skills during what he calls a “transitional phase” while attending Williams Middle School on N. 47th St. in Tampa. He joined the school’s Model United Nations program, and gave his first public speeches, including one at a competition in New York.
“The experience was great,” says Arpan, who also is an accomplished chess player. He combined the two things — public speaking and the logic required to win at chess — into a love for debate when he entered high school.
He finished third in his first prep competition. “From then on I knew it would be something I would stick with through high school,” he says.
There are two forms of high school debates. One is “Congressional,” which Arpan says simulates more of a legislative setting, and the other is “Lincoln-Douglas,” a 1-on-1 competition mirroring The Great Debates of 1858 between then-U.S. Senate candidate Abraham Lincoln and Senator Stephen Douglas
Debaters are given the topic weeks in advance, and must argue both the negative and affirmative side of the topic in competition. Each round takes roughly 45 minutes, and if you advance to the finals, it could mean as many as 6-7 hours debating an issue.
Arpan says that when he competed at Yale, he was exhausted after arguing five rounds each day, on the topic of national service. “During the round, the adrenaline carries me through,” Arpan says. “But, right after the final speech, I close my eyes, and it feels so good.”
It was debate that led Arpan to his other passion — a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization he founded called Best Fit Foundation. While at a debate camp the summer between his freshman and sophomore year, Apran realized how much money the weekend was costing his family. He wondered about other kids his age who might not be as fortunate to be able to afford the same experience.
“It dawned on me that there are kids who can’t pay this, but want to debate,” Arpan says. “It didn’t seem right that those who want to do extra curricular activities can’t because of financial barriers. If that’s the case, then those barriers need to be broken down.”
Best Fit Foundation started out providing clothes for those extra curricular activities, many of which, like FBLA and DECA, require suits and ties and nice shoes. Along with some of his friends who also are part of Best Fit Foundation, Arpan began collecting, buying and holding clothing drives and the group now has 500 articles to distribute to those who need it. One of his friend’s brothers moved out, and his room is now one big air-conditioned closet.
Best Fit Foundation also solicited donations from businesses, and raised $1,200 from a Kickstarter program, to help offset costs for those who can’t afford extracurricular activities at school. The nonprofit contributed $400 of the $600 per student needed to compete in a debate competition at Princeton University in Princeton, NJ. The group hopes to help others by paying their club dues.
“It’s something we really like doing,” Arpan says, adding that he wants to get the word out that any student at any school in Hillsborough County, can go to BestFitFoundation.org and apply for help.