At the end of Danny Hirsch’s first week at New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS), a fellow freshman tapped him on the shoulder as he sat eating lunch, alone.
Showing genuine concern, the student wanted to know if Danny was mute, since he had yet to speak to another student.
Having his voice heard is no longer a problem for Hirsch.
This week, Hirsch will represent the senior class as a speaker at graduation. And in April he placed second in a statewide debate tournament.
Hirsch got involved in the debate team when it was founded, in his junior year, and by December he was the captain. He involved more students and instituted more school-wide and intramural debates to keep the energy level up.
Hirsch himself went undefeated in local and regional rounds of the California High School Speech Association tournament this year, and he placed second in the statewide final round.
He specializes in the Lincoln-Douglas format, a model based on researching and presenting evidence and philosophical arguments on a topic chosen every two months by the National Forensic League. Aside from the intellectual rigor, Hirsch has found a community among debaters.
“There is this friendly, cooperative atmosphere, juxtaposed with a ruthlessly competitive environment,” Hirsch said.
Working with rabbis in his school, he came up with ways to distinguish Shabbat during Friday night and Saturday debates — using different color pens, for instance, and reciting the Hamotzi blessing over the bread and the Shehecheyanu prayer of gratitude before tournaments.
Hirsch, who will attend Pomona College in the fall, plans to study law or philosophy. This summer, he’ll coach a debate camp and run a weeklong institute to teach debate skills to high-schoolers.
Hirsch also helped found his school’s chapter of the National Honor Society, where members tutor elementary and middle-school kids.
Respected among his peers not only for his intellect, but also for his humility and kindness, Hirsch earned the highest GPA in his class. He volunteers to tutor bar and bat mitzvah kids at his synagogue, Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks, where he also helps out with third-graders at the religious school. He is vice president of NCJHS’ film club and writes the “Senior Musings” column for the school newspaper.
During ninth and 10th grades, he played on the school’s junior varsity basketball team and played in a local field hockey league through 11th grade, but he gave up sports to focus on debate.
“The atmosphere at New Jew and the connection among students and with teachers allowed me to blossom as an individual and gave me motivation to pursue my interest in debate, because I knew I would have a community who would support me whether I succeeded or failed,” Hirsch said.