Canada's top student debater would have made Charles Roach proud
June 15, 2017
Wherever he is, Charles Roach must be gushing with pride over Canada’s top high school debater Kimathi Muiruri.
The permanent Canadian resident, who died in October 2012, vehemently refused to pledge allegiance to the Queen which is a requirement for all citizenship candidates over the age of 14.
The lawyer and community activist lost out on an opportunity to become a provincial court judge because it required the oath which he opposed. He also did not possess a Canadian passport and was unable to vote despite being a resident for 57 years.
At the 19th annual senior national debate championships for high schoolers in Vancouver last April, Muiruri and his partner were runner-up. Based on their individual scores, the Upper Canada College (UCC) graduate was voted the tournament’s top speaker.
In the final round, the participants debated the motion, ‘This house as Canada would remove the Queen as the head of state.’
Muiruri’s clear and unequivocal argument for relinquishing the monarchy would have made Roach and others who oppose taking an oath to the Queen proud.
“I think that Canada as a multicultural nation and one that is beginning to recognize the importance of indigenous people on this land has an obligation to have a governmental structure, even if it is just optical, that respects all of the histories,” he said. “So, for African-Canadians, Aboriginal people and French-Canadians who perhaps have a history where the Queen and the British Crown that she represents has been the antithesis of their success and their well-being, it is important that we remove that so people can feel enfranchised within the Canadian identity without having to spurn a big part of it which is currently the Queen.”
In the last two years in high school, Muiruri was a member of the varsity rugby side. He also played soccer in Grade 11.
Debating is however his favourite activity.
“I learned from helpful older students who were willing to help,” said Muiruri. “I did a lot of reading on my own time to help me increase my knowledge. It was really just a matter of building my own confidence through trying and failing and eventually succeeding. I do have to give a very special shout out to the multitude of older boys who led me through the initial stages. Without them, I would not have had the confidence to keep going.”
In Grade nine, he represented Canada at an international competition for young debaters at the University of Oxford in England.
“We advanced far enough to debate in the grand final in the Oxford Union chamber,” said Muiruri. “One of the most surreal feelings in my life was standing at the podium in the chamber where Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill once stood.”
In August, the 17-year-old will captain the Canadian 12-member team at the World Schools Debating Championships in Bali, Indonesia.
Canada won the inaugural competition in 1988 in Australia and again in 2010.
Camille Turner, who coaches the UCC debating team with Lulu Wang, met Muiruri in Grade nine.
“Kimathi has a lot of spec knowledge,” she said. “He has tried very hard to understand policies, government and political and local issues. He just makes himself very well informed about what is going on in the world. He’s persuasive and he can make a good argument and back it up with evidence that is convincing. He also knows how to impact his arguments and how to say why something is important and to really get to the heart of an issue in very few words as possible.”
Turner said Muiruri has evolved as a club leader over the years.
“Not only is he really focussed on making himself the best debater in Canada, but he has tried to pass on that experience to the younger members,” she added. “That is sort of the tradition here at UCC in that the older guys teach the younger ones and that’s why we have been successful. He really stepped up in that role as an active mentor and role model.”
The product of Kenyan immigrants, Muiruri is heading to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the fall on a Morehead-Cain scholarship. He will major in biology.
Just three Canadians are selected annually for the prestigious award which was the first merit scholarship program established in the United States and the first to implement a strategic enrichment program. It fully funds four years of study and summer programs.
Recipients are selected based on scholarship, leadership, character and commitment to an active lifestyle.
“Besides wanting to get away from home, the university has a really good school of public health and a fantastic pre-med reputation,” said Muiruri who was also accepted at McGill University and the University of Chicago. “For someone like me who is interested in social sciences and the practice of medicine, it is a really good combination to blend those two and have opportunities to do research during my undergrad years.”
Muiruri attended St. Isaac Jogues Catholic School in Pickering up until the sixth grade when a family member referred his parents to the African Canadian Christian Network (ACCN) which fosters and enhances the work of Black churches and community organizations to steer young people away from violence. They started conversations about the diversity initiative with Upper Canada College (UCC) president Dr. Jim Power shortly after he was installed in 2004.
Some of Canada’s most powerful and wealthy graduated from the all-boys UCC established in 1829.
Annual tuition costs start at around $28,000 and the boarding program begins at about $50,000.
Completing Grade seven at the UCC preparatory school, Muiruri has been on the Principal’s List for the last four years having achieved a top 10 per cent grade average among students in his grade.
Mark Njoroge said he’s not surprised by his son’s success.
“Kimathi is bright, but he works extremely hard,” said Njoroge who came to Canada in 1986 on a scholarship to attend the Lester B. Pearson United World College of the Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia. “Many nights, he’s reading at 1 a.m. and I have to tell him to go and get some rest. His day starts at 5.30 a.m. when he wakes up and he’s doesn’t get back home until 9 p.m. most nights because he played rugby and soccer in addition to being a member of the debating club.”
Njoroge, who was a debater in Kenya, said his three children were exposed to reading at an early age.
“My wife (Sophy Osoro) is a teacher and she would often take them to the library,” said the business management graduate who works in the cyber security field.
Muiruri plans to attend medical school and be a practicing physician.
“I see that as a place I can make an impact in the world,” he said.