Syllables, citations and a syncopated assault of words spew out of RJ Khalaf’s mouth while he gives his final rebuttal in a crucial debate at the Cal Berkeley Invitational in California earlier this year. Given two minutes to summarize an entire round of contentions, rebuttals, blocks, impacts and links, Khalaf’s verbal velocity is matched only by his exemplary enunciation.
As he’s debating, Khalaf is involved in another battle in his home state. He is running for student body president at Coronado High School. There’s been a malfunction with a ballot machine, and Khalaf is awaiting the results.
Khalaf may not be the “popular kid” at Coronado, but he is one of its busiest and brightest students. Although a prominent figure in Student Council and the current junior class president, Khalaf has always considered himself an intellectual first and a socialite second.
“Of course, I like to go out and hang out with friends and do fun things, but I wouldn’t exactly call speech and debate the coolest thing you could do,” Khalaf said. “I love it, though.”
Khalaf, a junior, has ascended to become one of Coronado’s finest debaters. He has brought home trophies of all sorts and sizes throughout his first two years of forensics. Khalaf’s greatest achievement to date was advancing to quarterfinals at the national Alta tournament in fall 2012.
“Going all the way to quarterfinals against so many great debate teams was amazing, and to top it all off, we got a bid to the Tournament of Champions,” Khalaf said.
Receiving a bid to the national Tournament of Champions is a big deal for debaters, especially since Khalaf and his partner, junior Jordan Shuck, are following in the footsteps of Coronado’s greatest debate duo, Zach Meyer and Nathan Day.
Together, Meyer and Day attended the Tournament of Champions, and at one point in the season, were ranked as high as 15th in the nation. Now, instead of competing, Meyer and Day mentor the program’s students and travel with the team to national tournaments. Their presence has helped Khalaf tremendously.
“Having such great debaters around me helping me every step of the way has improved my skills a lot,” Khalaf said. “It’s not just limited to Zach and Nate though. Everyone on the team, including our coach and adviser, is so helpful and caring and really make the program the best it can be.”
Khalaf has been on the varsity debate team since his freshman year, and he takes great pride in those achievements. But he also succeeded in other activities at Coronado.
Khalaf is the founder and president of the Muslim Student Association.
As a member of the Muslim community in Southern Nevada, Khalaf is aware of the ill sentiments and bigotry that people of his faith have experienced. Khalaf wanted to create a club that would help inform people about Islam.
“People constantly misconstrue the pillars of my religion and think of Islam as something it is not,” he said. “Unfortunately, misconceptions dominate tabloids and the vile actions of a few radicals have given Islam a bad name. MSA is not just a place to educate those who may not know much about Islam, but it’s also a safe place for Muslim kids to hang out without being judged.”
Khalaf was elected student body president for the 2013-14 school year.
“When I found out that I won, I felt amazing, on top of the world,” Khalaf said. “It’s so humbling knowing that my peers support me and trust me to be their president.”
Khalaf has plenty on his plate, but strives for more. Responsibility and service are two facets that he lives his life by. People around him appreciate his philosophy.
“RJ is one of the greatest people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing,” said Shuck, his debate partner. “He possesses unique leadership skills and will undoubtedly do amazing things in anything he sets his mind to. I am lucky to call him a close friend.”
Whether doing homework or organizing events for student council, Khalaf devotes himself fully to everything. It’s safe to say that Coronado is in good hands with Khalaf at the helm — no debate about it.