Hunterdon Central’s Speech and Debate Team Seniors: Matthew Merlini, Surya Narla, and Saniya Srivastava

MATTHEW MERLINI 

 

Why did you join Central’s speech and debate team?

 

I joined the speech and debate team my freshman year. I knew I wanted to get involved in some clubs at Central and speech and debate was one of those that interested me the most. Looking back on it now, I am so glad I got involved with it.

 

What has your experience been like as a member of the team?

 

My time on the team has been an incredible experience. For starters, I was a really shy kid coming into high school and being a part of the team as well as an officer, allowed me to find my voice and break out of my shell; being able to express myself and what I believe in. It’s also taught me valuable skills like speaking, listening, and being able to think quickly and critically, which I can apply in everything in my life. I’ve also met some incredible friends along the way, some of whom are students at institutions like MIT, UC Berkeley, Trinity college, and Lafayette college. It’s also allowed me to help other students become speakers, including through myself judging both high school and middle school debate. 

 

What other activities are you involved in at Central and what do you enjoy about them?

 

Honestly, I’ve spent most of my time in speech and debate. There’s been so much offered through the organization, such as volunteer opportunities and our own honor society, that I spent most of my involvement with the organization. I do, however, plan on trying out for the HC Golf team this spring to further my school involvement. 

 

What are your passions outside of school?

 

My main passion outside of school is golf. I started playing in April of 2020 and I was instantly hooked on the sport; learning everything I possibly could about it. Currently, I usually play or practice 3-4 times a week, which usually ends up being 5. I’m also passionate about my job, where I currently work as a greetor/outside operations personnel for the golf course at Copper Hill country club. Some of the highlights of my job was working a wedding during a 12 hour shift, doing maintenance work on the course after two storms, and being active and in the outdoors. 

 

 

 

 What will you miss the most about Central?

 

For me, I’ll definitely miss the people I’ve met along the way. Being able to meet so many different teachers and students was one of the highlights of my high school experience, especially since I was able to learn a lot from them. I’ll also miss our school football games because it was always fun seeing my peers show up in spirit!

 

Do you have any plans after highschool regarding college or a career? 

 

After high school, I plan on pursuing an economics major at either the University of Delaware or American University. Econ has been one of my academic passions, and I would like to be an economist one day.

 

SURYA NARLA 

 

 

Why did you join the speech and debate team? 

 

Initially, I joined the Speech and Debate team because it was the one club all my cousins and family members participated in. It was my first choice for an extracurricular coming into this new school freshman year and arguably the best decision I made in high school as it opened up a myriad of opportunities for me. 

 

What has your experience been like as a member of the team?

 

As a member of the team, I experienced so much personal growth and was able to find my voice within. There was always so much positive support from Mr. Leonard and other members, making it easy to pick up new skills, learn, and compete frequently, which allowed me to develop a newfound confidence towards myself. I’ve been able to meet a lot of great people from Central as well as other schools, who’ve been mentors and became friends for me. Some of my most fondest memories have come from our day long Saturday tournaments and I remember just about each one along with the lesson I learned from it. These experiences all culminated into the person I am today, allowing me to act like a mentor and help raise the future of our successful team!

 

What other activities are you involved in at school and what do you enjoy about them? 

 

Other than Speech and Debate, I’m involved in Youth and Government (YAG), Model UN (MUN), Doctors of Tomorrow, Robotics, multiple honor societies, and Boy’s Tennis. Each activity has been able to reinforce my interests today and as I’ve been committed to many of them since freshman or sophomore year. With leadership in many of these, I’m able to spark similar interest like those who came before me and try to take my own spin on leading. In activities like Tennis, Robotics, YAG, and MUN, I am able to represent Central as a delegation or a team, which was huge in my adjustment to this new school early on as well as making friends, who I’d get very close to with time. 

 

What do you do for fun?

 

For fun, I love to watch and play sports. My favorites to play are tennis, football, basketball, and ultimate frisbee, while my favorites to watch are F1, football, tennis, and basketball at all levels. I really enjoy watching movies and TV shows of any genre but horror because I’d never volunteer to experience such a feeling. Playing basketball or Just Dance with my friends are some of my most favorite things to do. Sometimes, just eating out on a Friday night with my family can be really enjoyable. My ideal setting is being reclined on my sofa watching the Lakers or Chiefs with Taco Bell, the best fast food, in my lap and a blanket over me.  

 

What will you miss the most about Central

 

As much as I’m going to miss the free breakfast and lunch we’ve been having this year, the one thing I’ll miss the most about Central is how inclusive the environment is. From the staff, to the administration, to the student body, Hunterdon Central has such an involving environment and one that enabled a freshman, who had just moved into the county from a class around 2% of his graduating class, like me to fit right in. Even in my last year, new opportunities keep popping up that allow me to guide others and teach myself skills that’ll be crucial going into college. In my opinion, it was so easy by the end of 9th grade to feel a part of something and to become an active member of the student body. Everyone was so kind and the upperclassmen were very accepting and willing to help. Looking back, the adjustment I had to make wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the unique structure and amazing individuals who run and make up this school. I’ll miss that relentless, almost unconscious, magnet of involving others and giving everyone the opportunity to make their own impact. 

 

Do you have any plans after highschool regarding college or a career? 

 

Ultimately, my goal is to become a cardiologist. In order to focus on this interest and my love for helping people, I volunteer at my local rescue squad. I learn about saving people in 911/emergency situations, while furthering my interest in healthcare. I’m also interested in political science, which I want to minor in and pursue with my involvement in civic engagement. I help organize and lead the conferences Central participates in through the YMCA for YAG and MUN, which I was debating in before. Through these programs, I realized that I also have an interest in government and would love to incorporate this interest as an active physician in the future. 

 

 

 

 

SANIYA SRIVASTAVA

 

Why did you join Central’s speech and debate team?

 

 I joined the speech and debate team my freshman year because I was honestly just looking for an activity to do. I also wanted to do something that would help me step out of my comfort zone. Speech and debate felt like the perfect activity for me because it helped me overcome my apprehension towards public speaking, and allowed me to become a more confident person overall. 

 

What has your experience been like as a member of the team?

 

The debate team has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me. For starters, the team has allowed me to meet so many different people and foster great relationships with my teammates. Some of my closest friends are/were members of the team. Being a competitive debater has also helped me grow a lot as a person– I was a rather timid person going into high school, and was always afraid to speak my mind. The confidence I have gained from years of public speaking experience has helped me overcome this in all aspects of my life. Finally, the debate team has helped me become a better leader. I was a debate captain my junior year and am currently Co-President of the team. 

 

What other activities are you involved in at Central and what do you enjoy about them?

 

 I am the Head of the Competitive Code Club (a branch of the HC Code Club), where I help students get involved with Hackathons and other computer science competitions. I personally have competed in a lot of Hackathons throughout high school, and they have all been rewarding experiences as they have allowed me to meet and collaborate with different people while also growing my technical skills. I have also been a part of the Chemistry Olympics team since my sophomore year. Through Chemistry Olympics, I have strengthened my research and presentation skills while also learning about a lot of scientific topics. I am also an officer for the Science National Honor Society, where I lead a project called GET (Girls in Engineering and Technology). GET is a program that teaches engineering and computer science topics to middle school-aged girls

 

What are your passions outside of school?

 

Outside of school I love to cook, read, and write. Additionally, I work on personal coding projects and love learning new programming languages. In the summer after my junior year, I was a part of the NJ Governor’s School, where I worked on Machine Learning face recognition research. In the months afterward, my team and I continued our work and got the chance to present our research at MIT’s annual conference and have our research paper published! Now, I love keeping up with current events and new developments in Machine Learning. 

 

 What will you miss the most about Central?

 

I will definitely miss the people at Central the most– my teachers, club advisors, friends, and teammates. All of the people I have met at Central have helped make my high school experience so memorable, and I plan to stay in touch with everyone after I graduate. 

 

Do you have any plans after highschool regarding college or a career? 

 

In college, I intend to study Computer Science with an emphasis on Machine Learning and AI. I also hope to continue to build on my past computer science research in college. I hope to attend a college somewhere in the Northeast!