Although each professor put up a good fight, Varagona prevailed for his third time. Photo by Vandy Myers

The 20th Life Raft Debate took place on Founders’ Day, Oct. 12, 2017. The event began with Dr. Patton taking the stage to introduce this year’s debate. In his opening speech he thanked the cast and crew who helped set up and run the event, participants past and present and the audiences over the years for being so involved.

For those who are unfamiliar, the main theme of the Life Raft Debate is survival. Humanity has been destroyed by some mysterious apocalyptic forces, and the only survivors are the attendees of the Life Raft Debate and the debaters themselves. The debaters each represent their field of study, this year’s debate being composed of political science, social work, environmental studies and biology. Each participant argues on behalf of the usefulness of their discipline to those on the life raft, and those who lose the debate are thrown off. There is also the Devil’s Advocate, who argues that none of the disciplines should be saved, and all the participants should be drowned.

The opening arguments were begun by Andrea Eckelman, last year’s Life Raft Debate winner. Representing political science, Eckelman stated her field is about the relationship between people and their government as well as the art of compromise, both of which would be valuable skills on a small life raft and for rebuilding civilization.

Brendan Beal argued on behalf of social work as a service to humanity and people. He focused on the skills of a social worker in helping individuals build rapport, trust and relationships with one another, and on his real-world experience as a child abuse investigator. He closed his speech by arguing that those in the audience should celebrate their differences, and by showing pictures of his dogs.

Susan Caplow introduced her argument by defining what environmental studies are. She focused primarily on that fact that her discipline could help those on the life raft figure out what environmental factors had caused the apocalypse initially, and how it could be prevented in the future. She closed her arguments by saying that environmental studies  was a discipline designed for “this very moment,” and reminded the audience that if they voted for her they would also be voting to save her unborn child.

Heather Tinsley, the fourth participant, argued for the virtues of biology. She asked the audience what they wanted most, and argued that it would be to live through the apocalypse, which is perfect for biology, the study of life. She closed her argument by reminding the audience that they were in a genetic bottleneck with most of the population dead, and to reproduce the survivors would need to maximize genetic diversity.

This year’s Devil’s Advocate was Scott Varagona. He began his argument by saying he would be questioning the debate itself, rather than the candidates. After all, “We’re still stuck on the boat!” He argued that the world has already been destroyed, and that the participants were still needlessly arguing over who should be allowed to survive instead of acting. Then, he proceeded to point out the flaws in the participants’ platforms. Eckelman failed to deliver her campaign promises from last year’s win, Dr. Tinsley took the low road by focusing on sex, drugs, and rock and roll, Caplow shamelessly “played the pregnancy card,” and Beal’s dogs would “not fit on the raft.” He closed his argument by saying that a vote for the Devil’s Advocate was a vote for peace and cooperation.

The ballots were cast, and Scott Varagona was elected the winner, bringing him to a total of three wins so far, two of which were as the Devil’s Advocate.