Martin Sorensen

One of the greatest and most loved debaters ever to be part of MAD was Martin Sorensen, who tragically passed away in 1993. To preserve his memory, the Monash Internal Competition, the Best Speaker Trophy at the Australasian Championships, and the DAV Schools Competition D Grade Shield are all named in his honour. Below are some words which give some sense of the person who was Martin Sorensen.

The first tribute was delivered by the then President of the Monash Association of Debaters, Raymond D’Cruz, at Martin’s memorial service on Monday, the 19th of July, 1993 at the Carey BGS Chapel and published in Silvertongue, the magazine of the Monash Association of Debaters, Number 3, September 1993.

The second tribute was delivered by Daniel Celm, former Best Speaker of Australasia and Australasian Champion, at the Grand Final Ceremony of the Australasian Intervarsity Debating Championships in Brisbane on 10th July, 2005. His speech explained to the tournament participants the history and significance of the Martin Sorensen Best Speaker Trophy for the Championships.

The impact Martin made on the Monash Association of Debaters was great, and his legacy continues to inspire debaters from around the region towards greater achievement and service in their community.


Raymond D'Cruz

Martin Sorensen’s Memorial Tribute
Raymond D’Cruz, July 19, 1993

It was difficult to work out what to say, so a group of Martin’s closest debating friends from Monash sat around and talked. This is what we are thinking and feeling about the Martin we knew.

He was imbued with a wisdom far beyond his years. He saw things very clearly; whether he was debating or dealing with an issue as a member of the debating Executive, he was able to make sense out of issues that were too complex and difficult for the rest of us to understand. He seemed well considered on everything. Part of this wisdom was a sense of right and wrong, an elevated sense of justice. He would not tolerate the arrogant, rude or self indulgent – he would give them no tenure. People realised his wisdom and integrity very quickly, when Martin would debate, or simply speak, there would be a hush of expectance that something brilliant was about to be said – and he did just that.

He was humble – almost embarrassed by what a brilliant student and debater he was. He was a member of the Victorian Schools’ team, the Australian Schools’ team, and a Monash representative at four Australasian Intervarsities. He was a member of the team that were runners-up in 1991 and the teams that won the Australasian Intervarsity in 1992 and 1993. That 1993 Australasian Intervarsity win came only nine days ago: he won the best speaker of the tournament, a fitting final victory to one of the greatest debaters of our generation. He was a member of the Australian Test team for three of four Australasians. He won the Sydney Intervarsity of 1991. Martin never lost an internal debate at Monash, he was a member of the winning team in 1990 and 1991. He won the Public Speaking competition in 1990. It was a thrill to watch Martin debate; people from all over the world would agree. One of the saddest things will be knowing that we will never see him debate again.

Only those who knew him well knew how hard he worked as a student. Intellectually he was enormously gifted and could have always done very well without much effort, but that was not him. Martin made everything of his intelligence, he worked very hard and never took his gifts for granted. Not many people would know that only recently Martin received an award from the Economics Institute of Australia for being the best economics student at Monash in 1992. He was humble about the great successes he achieved in studies and debating. He loved to do well and he loved to win but he would not show it; you knew that if he was happy on the outside, he was ecstatic on the inside.

He was respected. Everyone who knew Martin respected him. School debaters would get nervous and excited when they heard that Martin Sorensen would be adjudicating them or when he walked into the room. People meeting Martin for the first time would only have to listen to what he said to instantly respect his wisdom and judgement. He had real integrity. Martin could have been arrogant about his extraordinary abilities, but he wasn’t. He would debate with anyone no matter how good or bad. If there was a debating or adjudicating seminar or if someone needed an adjudicator for a debate he would always oblige. And he wouldn’t just run a seminar or give an adjudication, the seminar would be revealing, helpful and humorous, the adjudication would be insightful, illuminating and correct. He gave much more to the debating club than just victory, he inspired and helped others – he became a role model and a main perpetuator of success. He was the Debating Secretary of the Debaters Association of Victoria Adults’ Competition – a position with a lot of work and not much else but that was his style. After being in the Victorian Schools’ team as a student, he would go back each year to help the students prepare. He gave so much to debating on so many levels.

Martin was independent. He would only do what he wanted. He moved out of home, he completed any responsibilities he accepted, he made the decision to go to Malaysia for the Australasian Intervarsity. It must have been difficult for his family to let Martin have all of this independence when they were so worried about his health, but he was grateful for this autonomy and he respected his family for it, he wanted it no other way. He chose to live his life regardless of his illness, he refused to let it limit him. His bravery was inspiring; we thought that if anyone could beat this, it was Martin.

Very few people have the potential to do what Martin did and to be what Martin was. He had a lot less weakness than most of us. Martin packed a lot into his life, he died quickly, triumphant and without regret. He was very pleased with the way things were; he was always in control. Martin was a person with enormous integrity and humility who had the unwavering repsect and friendship of everyone who knew him. Hopefully, someday, sometime we will all be reunited.

Daniel Celm

Martin Sorensen Trophy Tribute
Daniel Celm, July 10, 2005

The Martin Sorensen trophy has a wonderful legacy. It represents the pinnacle of individual achievement by a speaker at the Australasians tournament, and carries on it the name of many great debaters. But none more so than Martin himself.

I know that as time passes, it’s easy for past deeds to become folklore or mythology, and the temptation exists for exaggeration to take place. But rest assured – Martin really was that good. Although he had an outstanding record both at High School and at Worlds Intervarsity tournaments, it was here at the Australasian Championships from 1991 to 1993 that Martin really stamped his authority. From his very first year, he was consistently selected as a member of the Australian team for the Test Debate and always ranked amongst the top speakers of the tournament.

To give you a breakdown of his achievements in those years:

In 1991, he took Monash to only its second ever Grand Final appearance, and finished the tournament as Runners-Up.
In 1992, he led Monash to its first ever Australasians victory.
In 1993, at his last Australasians tournament:

  • Martin was again selected in the Australian Test team,
  • Again led Monash to victory at the Championships,
  • And was ranked as the best individual speaker at the tournament.

Most people who saw him debate, myself included, would say that on his day Martin was one of the best debaters they saw. He had an ability to communicate complex and sophisticated arguments in such a simple way that you couldn’t help but find yourself agreeing with him. Martin could pull apart a case so comprehensively, that by the time he sat down as first negative, he’d pretty much already won the debate. And if you were debating against him, somehow he did it so that you’d still actually like the guy.

He was also an outstanding student. He received an award from the Economics Institute of Australia for being the best economics student in 1992, and was one of very few to be granted a full scholarship from the Reserve Bank of Australia.

But it was Martin the person, not just the debater or student, who was so truly special. We all know that debating at times can have its fair share of egos, but in spite of his incredible talents and success, Martin remained humble. He treated all people he met – regardless of their level of skill, or what institution they were from, with respect and genuine warmth. As a result he was well liked, and had many friends, particularly from the Asian universities, many whom were still just emerging on the international debating scene at the time.

He would help out wherever he could – if someone needed a debating partner on a training day or an adjudicator for a practice debate – he was always there to lend a hand. He also took on many of the thankless administrative roles within the schools debating system in Victoria, just to ensure that others got the same opportunities as him.

Martin never built up his own achievements – he wasn’t interested in being hero-worshipped – but instead preferred to think of success in terms of how much he could help in the development of others. He was a firm believer in sharing his knowledge and passing on his talents. It was through this that I got the chance to know Martin. Although I did go on to debate at Monash, I actually knew Martin, not through university, but from when I was still at high school and Martin helped coach the schools team from Victoria that I was fortunate enough to be a part of. My memories of Martin as a coach are of a calm, friendly and patient guy, who’d take you under his wing, give you a few pointers and leave with an increased sense of confidence.

Sadly I, and many others, never got the chance to get to know him better and debate with him at uni. Three days after winning Australasians and being deemed the best speaker amongst his peers, Martin Sorensen passed away. Martin was a sufferer of cystic fybrosis, and from what I understand had been given a relatively short life expectancy from birth. In typical Martin style, he never sought any sympathy, nor made public his condition, and few of us knew how sick he really was. I sometimes think back and marvel at what incredible strength and character it must take in a young man to continue to be so outward focused; so concerned in the welfare and development of others; so passionate about the future; when he had every right to just focus on himself.

As I said at the start, the Martin Sorensen trophy carries with it a wonderful legacy. Not only is it the award for the best speaker at each year’s tournament, not only is it named in the memory of one of the best debaters of all time, but it should also serve as a reminder – to make the most of your time as university student debaters; to enjoy yourselves; and above all, to utilise the skills you’ve been blessed with in order to contribute to informed public debate in your countries and communities.