The ultimate collegiate debate fan, Megan Medica cheers on the Wake Forest debate team with a level of excitement that rivals any sports enthusiast. She closely follows the outcome of each round of competition and celebrates every victory.
Her late husband John Medica shared her passion for the deep-thinking, fast-talking world of debate.
To honor him, Megan has given $5 million to ensure the Wake Forest debate program has the resources needed to build on its legacy of success.
“We are so grateful to Megan Medica for choosing to honor John, who served as a trustee of Wake Forest, by investing in the Wake Forest Debate program,” said Wake Forest President Susan R. Wente. “The extraordinarily generous gift will support the academic and personal development of our debaters and inspire them to reach their highest goals.”
The five-year gift is the largest Wake Forest has received from an individual to support a program in the undergraduate college. It may also be the largest given to any debate program in the country.
“It is simply life-changing for our current debaters and for generations to come,” said Jarrod Atchison, who directs the Wake Forest Debate program. “I’m not aware of any other gift of this magnitude in the college debate community.”
“It is not easy to have such a profound effect on a program that is 185 years old, but that is exactly what the Medicas have done.” Jarrod Atchison, John Kevin Medica Director of Debate
Megan, who was a college debate competitor and earned a master’s degree in communication from Wake Forest, introduced her husband to debate. He became enthralled with the team’s process of crafting winning arguments and skill at the high-speed art of persuasion. The pair became avid supporters of the Wake Forest Debate program.
“John and I loved being a part of the Wake Forest debate family,” she said. “Many a late weekend night, we would listen for a ping to alert us that a text arrived with a status report on how the team was doing at a tournament. I wanted to honor John and his commitment to Wake Forest; and there is no better way than to invest in a program that engages the mind, seeks excellence and edifies young people.”
When visiting campus, the Medicas would often go by Carswell Hall to watch the debaters practice, listen to arguments, brainstorm ideas and ask questions. Megan pulled from her debate expertise, while John drew on his problem-solving experience as a renowned business leader and pioneer in the notebook computer industry.
Long-time supporters of Wake Forest, the Medicas began contributing financially to the team in 2015. In order to take all the Wake Forest debaters and coaches to the National Debate Tournament that year, the team drove more than 13 hours to the University of Iowa. Realizing the group would be more well-rested and ready for competition if they could board a plane instead, the Medicas’ first gift helped with air travel expenses for future tournaments.
The financial support is enabling the team to embrace the “Big Tent” approach to college debate. To create a competitive advantage, Wake Forest is focusing on recruiting the best high school debaters regardless of areas of interest or experience.
Increasing the diversity of thought and diversity of arguments requires additional coaches who can support the wider range of interests and perspectives debaters bring to the table.
Without coaches who have expertise in specific policy or subject areas, “it would be like a football team trying to win the SuperBowl without a quarterback coach,” Atchison said. “The Medicas’ support has meant that we can recruit debaters from all backgrounds with the promise that the only thing standing between them and their goals is their own hard work.”
The benefits of the “Big Tent” approach were clear when Ruby Klein (‘21) and Brianna Aaron (‘22) were able to switch their arguments up in the final round of the 2021 ACC Tournament to win the title.
“I love so much about debate,” said Klein. “It’s a combination of the competition and team camaraderie plus the public speaking element and intensive research on nuanced and compelling topics. The Wake team is quite unique in its model which lets debaters pick their own diverse arguments; as a result, Wake debaters tend to research a wide array of arguments and become passionate about many of them.
“The Medicas’ support of the debate team has had an immense and wide-reaching impact, offering many new and remarkable opportunities — from letting younger debaters travel and participate in tournaments to enabling the team to hire wonderful coaches.”
Aaron, a first-generation college student, is also grateful for Megan Medica’s generosity and looks forward to competing again this year.
“We are so successful because we can collectively use our strengths to shine,” she said. “Many people would be quick to use language like ‘stubborn’ or ‘argumentative’ to label someone who likes to extensively unravel ideas. For debaters though, we thrive by idea testing one another’s positions and getting to the depths of an argument.”
The gift also funds scholarships to reward the hardest working debaters each semester. The students selected may be ones in the spotlight who win tournaments or they may be ones who make valuable contributions behind the scenes.
The John Kevin Medica Scholarships provide $5,000 to six debaters each semester who are already on the squad.
“John and Megan Medica understood the value of hard work and the scholarships reflect their belief that the hardest working students deserved to be recognized,” Atchison said.
In addition, the gift has endowed a faculty position for the debate program. Atchison was named the John Kevin Medica Director of Debate earlier this year. John Medica was honored posthumously with the Distinguished Alumni Award.
Springboard to the Future
Wake Forest’s tradition of debate goes back to the 1830s. Often fielding teams that made it to the final four, Wake Debate has won the National Debate Tournament twice, in 1997 and 2008, and are perennial national contenders. Wake Forest teams have taken home the top ACC Debate Tournament trophy four times. The University also has a long history of hosting tournaments. Wake Forest has hosted the Franklin R. Shirley Classic Debate Tournament for college debaters since 1956. The tournament was recently awarded the best regular season tournament of the past decade.
“The exposure to and involvement in debate yield an array of benefits to all who participate: critical thinking, research and analysis, creativity and the ability to formulate and express complex arguments and thoughts under pressure,” Megan Medica said.
“Nowhere else in academia – from classrooms to extracurricular activities – does there exist a pure opportunity for students to voraciously explore, explain and probe all sides of a topic and to truly think on their own.” Megan Medica