Maybe it’s Farzaan Kaiyom’s (12) maroon bomber jacket that catches eyes as he walks through the hall or, for those who prefer to stare at the ground, the Adidas NMDs that he chose for that day.
“I got really into fashion partly because of my taste in music. I listen to a lot of hip-hop and R&B, and artists of those genres never fail to dress … I think I’ve taken a lot of my fashion choices from them,” Kaiyom said.
But while his affinity for streetwear has led some people to refer to him as a “hypebeast,” Kaiyom has spent much of his high school career at debate tournaments — wearing suits.
Kaiyom competes in Policy and Lincoln-Douglas debates and is currently ranked 28th in the nation in the latter category by Victory Briefs Institute, which describes itself as “the nation’s most successful summer debate workshop.”
“Lincoln-Douglas debate is a debate about morals and philosophy,” Kaiyom said. “Policy debate is pretty similar to Lincoln-Douglas debate … but the difference is that Policy topics will always be about a single policy, so it would be, for example, ‘the United States should regulate its education more.’”
His interest in debate was sparked by his cousin, and Kaiyom began competing in local debate tournaments his freshman year at Ronald Reagan High School in San Antonio. After achieving success on the local level, his coach moved him to the traveling team, and, despite initial difficulties, Kaiyom persevered.
“On the local circuit, I was consistently winning tournaments, but on the national circuit, I wouldn’t even make it to elimination rounds, I would be immediately eliminated,” Kaiyom said. “So, the fact that it was more difficult made me want to work harder and succeed on the national level.”
Three years later, Kaiyom has won more awards than he can keep track of and will travel for the second time to the Lincoln-Douglas Tournament of Champions at the University of Kentucky in April. An invitation to the TOC requires that a competitor receive at least two bids, which are earned by performing well at national circuit tournaments.
“This year I got three; I got one at [California State University Long Beach], one at Presentation High School and one at Harvard-Westlake School,” Kaiyom said.
Doing well at a national, or even local, tournament is no small feat. Kaiyom says that during the season or leading up to the TOC, he’s doing about two hours of research every day aside from the speaking drills and practice debates.
“You get evidence for every possible argument you expect to make and then for an argument to answer that argument, so the amount of evidence you need grows exponentially as the year progresses,” Kaiyom said.
When he moved to San Diego the summer before his junior year, Kaiyom selected TPHS over Canyon Crest Academy specifically because of its renowned debate program and was disappointed to discover that the program was no longer the national powerhouse it had once been. As the captain of the TPHS Lincoln-Douglas team, Kaiyom is able to help other debaters and make sure the program still thrives. Because there is hardly funding from the school, he covers some of his own travel and entry costs by fundraising.
Kaiyom is still aware that many schools in San Diego don’t have debate programs because they cannot afford entry and travel expenses. So, he created the San Diego Debate Initiative, an outreach program that runs debate workshops for middle and high schoolers.
“We created a free debate camp where we taught students the basics of public speaking and debate,” Kaiyom said. “The SDI goes further into the city and into the less-fortunate middle schools, and we’ve created programs there.”
Kaiyom dedicated his time to SDI during the summer, but as the school year rolled around it was back to preparing his own debates — that is, until he received his first college admission. For the past few months, Kaiyom has been seen sporting hats or shirts emblazoned with the logo of Stanford University, where he’ll be attending next year.
“I’m doing a joint major in computer science and philosophy,” Kaiyom said. “The philosophical aspect of [Lincoln-Douglas] is the reason that I’m majoring in philosophy.”
Although Kaiyom was admitted to Stanford with no requirement that he debate there, he made the decision to join Stanford’s team because of his love of competing and all of the ways that debate has helped him develop as a person, including boosting his self-confidence.
“It just makes you an all-around better person because it makes you look at society and how things are for other people; it makes you more understanding of the people around you,” Kaiyom said.
On a more unexpected note, Kaiyom cites debate as part of what triggered the evolution of his fashion sense, specifically, a switch from “ill-fitting suits and horrendous ties” to a more tailored look.
“I feel like looking good is a prerequisite to success, especially in debate, where your appearance is always people’s first impression of you,” Kaiyom said. “If you’re looking sharp, people are more intimidated by you.”
If one thing’s for sure, it’s that Kaiyom will be dressed to impress when he steps onto campus this fall.