Alex Zavell was born and raised in Oakland, California, where he first began debating as a sophomore in high school. After several years as a successful high school and college debater, he turned his energies to the Atlanta Urban Debate League as a teacher, judge, and mentor. A competitive debater personally, Alex believed that debate should embody a commitment to justice and authenticity as much as hard work and competition. He lived those values in his work with the AUDL and in his personal life as a college student, where he was awarded Emory’s Humanitarian Award for seniors committed to improving the Emory community.
After graduating from Emory in 2013, Alex moved home to Oakland, California, where he became involved in state and local politics. In his policy and regulatory work, Alex combined a debater’s detailed technical knowledge with a commitment to activism, community-building, and just public policy. He also maintained his connection with the UDL, working with Oakland city officials and local businesses to help support the Bay Area Urban Debate League. Over time, he gained recognition by ways of an Oakland City Counsel Commendation for UDL efforts with the Oakland middle and high schools
Alex was outgoing and known for building bridges between people with a diversity of perspectives. His life’s work was to inspire students to “find their agency.” Alex passed away in January 2017. At just 25 years old, he made an enormous impact on his community, and serves as a model for how debaters can use their skills to change the world.
This year’s recipient is Isaiah Sirois. Isaiah is an Emory student who has dedicated tireless efforts to the AUDL since his arrival to campus as a freshman. We are happy to see Isaiah honor Alex by carrying on this important work in his memory.