There are a lot of places you can find high school senior Abi Rajadurai. Whether it’s working hard in the classroom, praying with her fellow church-goers, or even dominating a debate tournament at another school’s campus – her range is quite extraordinary.
Abigail Rajadurai, known to most people at NAHS as “Abi Raj”, has made quite the impact on her community since her start at the town of North Attleboro’s public school system in 2017. Ever since her freshman year, Rajadurai has made countless connections, accomplishments and long-living projects that help create a sense of community in the school. Her area of expertise, you ask? The world of competitive high school debate.
Rajadurai has been a part of the NAHS debate team since the fall of 2017, and was elected as captain in 2019. On top of having the most experience on the team before she was elected, she also believes she possesses the leadership qualities necessary to bring the team to victory.
“I’m able to recognize qualities I have that can be applied to leadership. I am really passionate about teaching and that has been such a huge part of leadership for a team that is mostly student run,” Rajadurai states.
Rajadurai has competed in dozens of debate tournaments over her high school career, and has secured wins in multiple. She says that being able to analyze an issue from both sides is what most draws her to the sport.
“I think what drew me to debate was how it allowed me to view multiple points of view on a topic. Because you have to argue for the ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ sides of a topic, you have to have a really solid, multi-partisan understanding of the issue. That has forced me to look past my own political and personal bias. I’m really grateful for the perspective that gives me,” she states.
Rajadurai is also passionate on a lot of topics that are often discussed in the debate world. In particular, she points to sexism as one of the topics she focuses on most.
“I am really passionate about sexism and its structural implications. This is a huge problem in the debate world. There are a lot of statistics about how female debaters are less likely to advance to later rounds in tournaments, the prevalence of sexist language in debate cases, and evidence of negative stereotypes impact judge decisions. It’s frustrating but also shows how deeply the patriarchy affects society.”
And not just Rajadurai believes she has leadership qualities necessary for being able to lead a team:, her fellow classmates do too, including senior Savannah Bankert.
“I think Abi has been a fantastic leader throughout high school, especially in debate,” Bankert said. “I met her in our freshman english class, and she was constantly leading the room and captivating everyone with her compelling opinions. She’s really just a strong woman overall, and her authority in debate, while disrespected by some of her fellow members, was important to lead the way to victory.”
When Rajadurai isn’t debating and securing golden trophies for her shelf, she finds herself somewhere that a lot of Americans go to for peace and respite from the real world: church.
Ever since she was born, Rajadurai has been raised in a heavily Christian family, attending church every Sunday and reading scripture. She says that religion has shaped the person who she is today.
“Religion has shaped everything about me. A lot of the significant people in my life are people I’ve met through church, my political beliefs are based on christian values, and being a Christian gives me a higher purpose that is such a factor in my everyday decisions. It’s hard to say whether I’d be religious without my parents introducing me to it,” she says.
Like many other people of faith, Rajadurai takes a lot of life lessons and advice from the church. As a devout Christian would, she puts God before everything she does and herself. However, she also disagrees with some of the views she was raised on.
“A big thing we talk about in church and a religious belief in general is the idea that you live for God first. The concept of selflessness, putting your own needs and desires aside in order to fill a higher purpose, is so valuable. At the same time, organized religion can be really toxic. I grew up in pretty conservative religious spaces and there are a lot of lessons and values I learned that I disagree with now, especially rules that would fall into politically conservative categories,” she states.
Unfortunately, some of those prejudiced views came into play back in October, when Rajadurai made a shocking discovery that her car had been keyed in the parking lot outside of her work, with racially-motivated intentions behind it.
Rajadurai left her place of work to find that the letters “KKK” had been keyed into her car while she had been working that day. The incident occured around the same time as another person of Indian descent in a neighboring town, confirming the incident was indeed targeted at certain people of color. However, Rajadurai says she is “doing a lot better” after the incident, and that it brought a lot of problems and assumptions she had about the state of racism in North Attleboro, to light.
“I think the big thing I took away from that experience was the fact that living in a “liberal” town doesn’t take away from the existence of structural injustice. There was a lot of support from the community that was so incredible and heartwarming but there was also a lot of dismissal. Friends told me that I was being dramatic, certain members of the community tried to brush this off as random, etc.That was really disheartening and it taught me how much work we have to do as far as educating,” she states.
Even though the incident may have been traumatizing and unexpected, Rajadurai plans on using it as a “teaching moment.”
“Experiencing this has given me a platform to talk about what exclusion and racism can look like in a community. I obviously wish this never happened but I feel grateful for the insight I’ve gotten into the gaps in the system when it comes to dealing with racism,” she says.
Despite her negative experience just months ago, Rajadurai still keeps a positive attitude and works hard for the things she has in life.
Senior Jack MacLaughlin also attests to her positivity: “I think Abi’s defining quality is her ability to light up a room. Even if you’re having a bad day, her just being there can make it better. She is always super energetic and enthusiastic and she makes the people around her happier.”
So whether its debate, religion or educating others on her past experiences, Abi Rajadurai is learning how to move forward and be the best she can be, no matter what field she is working in. All she needs is her daily cup(s) of coffee.