Teen’s debate success to Princeton

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Destiny Crockett is the first graduate of St. Louis’ Clyde C. Miller Career Academy to ascend to the Ivy League. A love for debate helped get her there.

The 17-year-old valedictorian with a 4.1 grade-point average earned a full scholarship to Princeton University, where she’ll start this fall.

Crockett and her high school debate partner, Cameron Smith, were the first from St. Louis Public Schools to achieve Top 16 status at a national debate competition last month. They compete in another national debate tournament next month in Birmingham, Ala.

Crockett had humble beginnings. Her father died before she was born and her mother raised her while juggling a nursing home job and going to college.

Her school in mid-town St. Louis, with about 800 students, is a “choice” school without neighborhood boundaries. Entrance requirements include good behavior, attendance and grades. Principal Steve Warmack called the debate duo the best students he’s seen in 40 years.

Crockett began consuming books about education and race early in life. She saw education as a great equalizer — and failing schools as the fault of a community. She challenged teachers to push her more.

“Destiny will be the first to demand teaching,” said Samantha Smith, a debate coach. “All four years she’s had somebody she wants more from, in terms of ‘teach me, teach me, teach me.’”

When she was a freshman, Crockett heard the debate team was looking for members. She decided to give it a try.

She was soon paired with Smith. They became best friends.

By their sophomore years, they were trouncing debaters at other city schools. They competed against teams from St. Louis County and elsewhere in Missouri their junior years. That was enough to show Crockett and Smith they could be better than students from more affluent areas.

This year, the duo was unbeaten at the Missouri qualifiers for the National Forensic League debate competition next month in Birmingham. Their top 16 finish at the Urban Debate League’s national competition was “a profound first for our city,” debate coach Andrew Gallagher said.

Smith will attend Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, on full scholarship.

Crockett wants to major in English with a concentration on urban policy at Princeton. Her goal: Play a role in transforming public education.

“I keep thinking I will be nervous,” she said of her journey. “But I don’t think I have anything to be nervous about.”

I don’t have any reservations.”

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