For the first time, the award for best speaker went to a non-native-English speaker - and to a woman: Chitra Jenardhanan of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Her school also took the award for the top team in which English is a second language.
Jenardhanan's prizes included a standing ovation, a three-foot gavel and $3,500.
"Coming all the way from Singapore, competing in a language that's not your own, and then to win - truly her accomplishment was quite remarkable," said championship director David Calone, a Princeton junior.
The tournament, which attracted teams from six continents, was a test of ad-lib skills and persuasiveness, as well as knowledge of current events and social and ethical issues. Contestants learned the topics of debate only 20 minutes before each round.
More than 1,000 debates were held before the field was winnowed to two teams. New South Wales and Oxford Union clashed over the statement: "This house believes that the right to life cannot be abridged."
Oxford Union, champions in 1988, when the tournament was held at the University of Sydney, argued for the affirmative, with speakers Rufus Black and Rod Clayton proposing, on both moral and practical grounds, that the death penalty be abolished. But the judges gave the edge to the New South Wales team of James Hooke and Jeremy Philips, who argued that society's worst deserved the worst that society could give.
The judges included newscaster Robert MacNeil; Whitewater prosecutor Kevin Starr; Federal Reserve Bank president Paul Volcker; Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard; India's ambassador to the United States, Siddartha Shankar Ray; Australia's ambassador to the United States, Don Russell; and five debaters from four different nations.
The highest-ranking American team, Harvard Law, lost in the semifinals to New South Wales. Rounding out the final four was the Oxford Graduate Debating Society, which lost to Oxford Union.
Princeton, host of the event for the third time, was barred by the rules
from competing. But the Harvard Law team was composed of two Princeton grads, Ted Cruz and David Panton, both Class of '92. And Scott Angstreich, Princeton '93, represented Oxford Graduate. He's a Marshall Scholar there.
The winning team split $3,000, donated by Citibank.
Next time, it's on to Ireland. The 1996 championships will be sponsored by Murphy's Irish Stout and held at University College, Cork.