In Memory of Keith West, Debate Coach

The West Family

On August 11, 2020, Boston Latin School Speech and Debate club’s coach, Keith West, passed away. During his tenure, beginning in 2012, Coach West guided countless students and saw several successes, including multiple team appearances at national tournaments and two state championships. Most importantly, he was a gentle, passionate soul known for his vast wealth of knowledge and endless kindness. He will be greatly missed by the debate and Boston Latin School community.







Words From His Students

Graciela Berman-Reinhardt (I)

The debate team at BLS will be forever touched by the legacy of our Coach Keith West. Any time we gathered for our Tuesday meetings, Mr. West would be there, satchel bag and all, to guide us through the month’s topic or simply check-in to see how our day had been.

I can still easily conjure up an image of Mr. West role-playing a group of trade-warring countries with gusto, describing each of their motives in simple explanations and funny facial expressions that helped me navigate the basics in an otherwise overwhelming flood of information.

Though Mr. West’s sheer understanding of all the topics was unparalleled, he always patiently listened to our underdeveloped arguments, then provided additional information to improve them or a different angle to consider.

No debate tournament will be the same without his mellow presence, willing to help with any last-minute prepping, always looking out for his team with his trademark calm smile and pulled back hair. I know that I would never have half the understanding of the world I have today if not for Mr. West and his skill at narrating the world’s most pressing issues to a group of stressed high schoolers.

Mr. West, you are already missed. Thank you for all you gave us.


Nadine Han (I)

CW: brief anxiety mention

It’s impossible to explain Keith West in a few sentences. Even though I knew him for four years, there were still accounts of his exploits that I had never heard about until his passing. He was a debate coach. He was also a nationally renowned debater, a wonderful discussion moderator and a band kid at some point. There’s still so much more, but the best I can do is put here what I have of his memory and what I wish I could have said, so we won’t ever forget:

Thank you for listening to my speech redoes. Thank you for staying late after practices to talk about debate. Thank you for hugging me when I needed it most, for checking in whenever I looked down and for teaching me how to curb my anxiety. Thank you for being there as I grew from a terrified eighth grader who hid behind her hair and wore baggy dress pants to a sharply dressed junior who doesn’t back down until the round’s over.

Thank you for taking care of us, and for giving us wings to fly on our own. Rest easy. We’ll continue to do our best.


Emily Sun (I)

When I joined the debate team in ninth grade, I did not think it would become such a big part of my life. Debating was something that I, as someone scared of confrontation, was not used to. And I struggled a lot. But the one constant support I always had was Coach West. His warm smile and patient listening always awaited my post-round rants. He always knew the perfect words to explain the argument I wanted to make or the feeling I wanted to express — I was so, so lucky to have had him as coach.

I will never forget how he always made lectures interesting with his unique sense of humor, his loud booming voice that echoed even in loud cafeterias, and the personal advice he gave me during troubled times. He will always live on in the BLS Speech and Debate team, a close-knit and skilled community that is the result of years of his hard work. I will miss you, Coach, but I will always keep my memories of you, your words of advice and everything you have taught me with me forever.


Alice Wu (I)

     I joined BLS Debate on a whim as a timid eighth grader, with the extent of my public speaking experience being our quarterly English class declamations. I never planned to spend weekends upon weekends yelling at kids from other schools about foreign and domestic policy, but nevertheless, that’s exactly what I’ve done for the last five years as a part of BLS Debate. Much of that enthusiasm can be attributed to Keith West, our coach. He helped guide us through the rough waters of Public Forum Debate, taking hours upon hours out of his weekends and afternoons to help us improve our debate skills. He would sit through our rounds, giving Gracie and me detailed speech-by-speech breakdowns and helping us to advance farther in tournaments than we could have ever imagined.

     He wasn’t just our debate coach, however — he was also a video game enthusiast, a dog lover, and a passionate advocate of equity and justice. Between rounds at tournaments, he would show us pictures of his dogs and ask me about the strategy games that I had recently been playing. And above all, he was our friend. Wherever he is now, I hope that we’ll maintain his legacy and do him proud.


The debate team at the Lexington Winter Invitational in 2019. (Selina Tang)

Muxi Lemuel Yu (I)

They say actions speak louder than words. Mr. West was a man of loud words and even louder actions.

On the Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays Keith spent with the debate team, he did his utmost to let no second go to waste, putting in the time to ensure that every bit of experience accumulated in a tournament or practice helped us improve.

As we trickled back to the cafeteria after a debate round, Mr. West would already be in the midst of asking what we learned. As the sky darkened on yet another tournament, Mr. West could be found cleaning up the mess of hundreds of high-school debaters and making sure we get home safely.

I will never be able to talk to Mr. West in person again. But nonetheless, I will find him speaking to me. In the heat of a debate round, as I apply to colleges and as I look toward my future.

He’ll always be there, reminding me that the absence of success is not a failure, but a learning opportunity that will make me better.

There’s always going to be an unfillable space, however, where his person used to be, a reassuring presence that will no longer be there. 


Cinly Mo (III)

My last email to Keith West was sent on a Friday evening, August 7. His last words to me were short but impactful, “Looking forward to diving back into debate in the fall!” After the devastating news of Keith’s passing, I remember looking back at this email, rereading this last line to hang onto the small sense of joy that it resonated in my head.

Just one of the many instances where a small interaction with him helped me get my head out of the clouds. It was his reassuring aura. Whether he was spectating a round of mine, holding his phone sideways to play his fantasy game as I approached him after a long day of debating, or managing and guiding hundreds of students at a national university tournament.

A debate coach doesn’t even begin to describe who Keith West truly was. He was a larger-than-life figure in many ways, a mentor who you could count on not only for debate advice but also for advice on history, sociology and any number of other topics.

Rereading the email and cherishing my time with Keith West will forever bring a smile to my face.


Maya Nelson (III)

Keith West was one of the most incredible debate coaches I have ever met. I honestly don’t know how our team will be able to do even a quarter of what we were doing without his efforts.

After every round, he made a point of seeking out every single debater on our team and checking in to see how our rounds went. We would start talking about whether we thought we had won or lost, but he would always tell us, “It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose. What did you learn?” Mr. West truly believed that debate was a learning experience, and by doing it we could become better people.

Mr. West was always advocating to make debate a more equitable activity. Whether it was helping middle school students compete in a high school league, teaching girls to assert their dominance in a room of all males without being called aggressive or making sure all students could afford to participate, he truly cared about every person he met.

Finally, Mr. West really got to know each student as an individual. He cheered us on during our successes and supported us through our failures.


The debate team celebrating their success at a local tournament in 2018. (Wei Tang)

Selina Tang (III)

CW: mental illness mention

In all honesty, Keith West is the most influential person I will ever meet. He was more than just a debate coach, but rather my life coach that taught me how to question everything around me, how to view the world and most importantly, how to view myself. Keith inspired every one of his students to be confident and stand their ground, but to always listen to others; to be passionate without being blindsided; and how to tackle serious topics with hope and a light heart.

With that said, there’s another aspect that I would like to touch upon. His wife mentioned he would’ve wanted his passing to be politicized as it was mainly due to mental illness and the various forms that it presented itself in his life. Thus, while we should feel grief, we should also reflect on the issue of mental health in our society — the stigmatization, the lack of awareness and access to treatment. I hope from all of his students’ tributes, we can see the tremendous impact that Keith West has had on the BLS community, and uphold his legacy by continuing to advocate for mental health and doing our best to educate ourselves.


Mira Yu (III)

Within five minutes of hearing Mr. West talk about the debate team, I knew two things: First, that I was going to join, and second, that Mr. West was one of a kind.

I am endlessly grateful for all the time he spent with us, especially those hours alongside the night custodians that he would stay for until we mastered the speech. Every time I came to him ready to give up, he was always there with his way of both listening and responding that could fix any situation. By far the most eloquent person I’ve ever met, he combined his limitless knowledge with a powerful voice that simultaneously radiated confidence and kindness.

This pandemic must have been difficult for someone with so much love and energy for those around him, who thrived off helping and being around others, who had such a passion for analysis and logic in this time where nearly nothing makes sense. I will never completely know the struggles he faced, but I know that I’ve never met anyone else who understood people and how to help them so acutely, and I don’t think I ever will. I miss him beyond words.


Neil Jin (IV)

Keith West was someone I could always look up to, physically and metaphorically. Upon joining the debate team, he became my role model since he was always so kind and always knew the answer to everything you asked him. I know he inspired a lot of people, and I hope to continue his legacy.