“The king had a way of speaking to us as if we were his personal advisory board. He told us we can have a direct effect on the world today and how we are the future leaders.”
A few lucky Oklahoma Christian University students spent part of their summer vacation gazing at the Dead Sea, soaked in the history of Petra, touring Mount Nebo, and all at the invitation of the King of Jordan, Abdullah II.
Twenty-four high school students from 16 states traveled to the OC campus as part of a 10-day event known as the Four Star Debate that climaxed in the Middle East. Two OC students and several staff members sponsored the high school debate trip and stayed with the students at the King’s Academy in Jordan.
“As an American with no connection to the Middle East except for 9/11, I had such uneasy feelings toward the Middle East,” junior Alyssa White said. “Now that I have been in Jordan, I have learned that the people in Jordan really want peace and unity, and they don’t want war in the Middle East anymore.”
Four Star Debate was started in 2008 by former Commander in Chief of the United States Central Command, General Tommy Franks.
Now retired, Franks turned to Oklahoma Christian as a host for the program because of his friendship and veteran commonality with President Mike O’Neal.
“The two share a deep commitment to the same values,” Brian Bush, the executive director of the Academy of Leadership and Liberty, said. “When General Franks was interested in starting a program like this, he turned to OC first because of our university’s commitment to leadership and liberty.”
Freshman Hannah Ketring and sophomore Antoine Kajangwe debated in the event as high school students in 2008 and 2009 respectively. Both explained their experiences as highly impactful in their college careers.
Ketring and Kajangwe gained perspectives on major issues and ways of discussing them that many people never learn.
“Everything isn’t as simple as we originally think it is,” Ketring said. “It helped me broaden my perspective and understand that there are usually arguments for and against the same issue. It helps to be able to see things from the other perspective.”
At 16 years old, Ketring and her partner won the 2008 tournament against 24 of the brightest debate teams in the country. For Ketring, it meant a $20,000 scholarship to Oklahoma Christian.
Rwandan student Kajangwe was among the first international students to participate in Four Star Debate. He came in fourth out of the 36 students in the tournament.
“It was fun to be able to stand up there and see people respect me for my views, for the way I debate,” Kajangwe said.
Kajangwe described his frustrations with common American apathy. He felt there is not enough commitment to education and thought of many Americans as simply ignorant.
“They just see things in black in white,” Kajangwe said. “They just see things in red, white and blue – America, that’s it, and that’s all that matters. There are a lot of things going on outside the U.S.”
Bush said no other program teaches these levels of values as does Four Star Debate. Four Star also gave the students insight into what was for most of them an unfamiliar land culturally, historically and geographically.
“The trip was monumental because it allowed 24 high school students the chance to learn about a region we know very little about,” Bush said. “The impact of the program is in the chance to pair the American students with Middle Eastern students and have them learn from each other.”
During the team’s stay, the Jordanians showered them with cultural experiences and elaborate meals occasionally laid out as if they were meals for the King of Jordan himself.
Beyond the ancient sites and authentic food, the Jordanians gave the participants and sponsors the unique opportunity to meet their host, the King of Jordan.
“The king had a way of speaking to us as if we were his personal advisory board,” White said. “He was talking to us about how we can have a direct effect on the world today and also how we are the future leaders. He made us seem so important, which was crazy hearing that from the King of Jordan.”
The participants and sponsors met at Oklahoma Christian’s campus before departing on the long journey eastward toward Jordan. Oklahoma Christian can expect to remain an important meeting point for many years to come. Four Star Debate develops national and worldwide recognition as a campus of growth, especially as it plans to continue advocating and even facilitating the debate every other year.
“It allows us to showcase our university to some of the best and brightest high school students in the country,” Bush said. “The press coverage of the program allows more people to see the amazing things that are going on here at OC.”
By Michael Lemmons, OC Talon