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"The most American thing." Social responsibility wins the Great American Think-Off

Following an evening of debate on Saturday, June 10, two-time champion Blaine Rada was crowned the winner of the 29th Annual Great American Think-Off after arguing that social responsibility is more

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Blaine Rada stands at the podium during the 2022 Great American Think-Off as he debates why he believes social responsibility is more important than personal choice.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus
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PERHAM — What's more important: social responsibility or personal choice? That is the question — the question of the 2022 Great American Think-Off hosted by the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center that is. After four finalists all across the United States — Matthew Anderson, Blaine Rada, Hunter Liguore, and Ronald Stewart — were selected based on their essays defending their position, they each took to the stage to verbally debate their philosophies in New York Mills on Saturday, June 10.

Once two finalists on opposing sides were chosen through audience vote, they took back to their podiums to defend their positions. Blaine Rada represented the "social responsibility" side, while Hunter Liguore argued the "personal choice" side. In the end, after another audience vote, Blaine Rada and his stance on social responsibility were crowned the winners.

"In my own life experiences, even though personal choice has been a big part of my life, if the question is, which is more important, it really wasn't that close of a choice for me," Rada explained his stance after his win. "Social responsibility was more important… over time, I've just come to realize that really the success of us as a society, as a culture, as a community — all of these things are more about common good and being socially responsible."

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The four finalists of the 2022 Great American Think-Off — Matthew Anderson, Blaine Rada, Hunter Liguore, and Ronald Stewart — stand together after the debate.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

Rada, a training professional in the mortgage industry and a member of Mensa, came all the way to New York Mills from Darien, I.L., a suburb of Chicago. This, however, wasn't his first time in town. He discovered the Great American Think-Off in 2005. That year, the very first time he entered, he was selected as a finalist and won. Now, 17 years later, he's champion once again.

"I just think it's such an amazing event," he said, having entered an essay every year he could since 2005. "I learned when I was here in 2005 that this was nothing like the debates that people see on television with politicians, and it was the most American thing I've ever done."

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He continued, "It's ordinary people who are wrestling with really crucial kinds of national implication questions — not only the debaters, but the audience that's here. And it's so cordial and respectful, and everyone is here to support one another. Our positions are not terribly far from each other; it's on a spectrum."

Rada enjoys coming together with several people who think differently from him and discussing said differences. He believes that most debates are about tearing the other side down or grandstanding, but that's not the way he thinks debate should be. He believes that it should be a collaborative discussion that can help inform both the debaters and the audience members.

That's why he loves the Great American Think-Off so much; it's how he believes debate should be held — cordial and conversational.

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Blaine Rada, the winner of the 2022 Great American Think-Off, addresses the audience after his win.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

As someone from the suburbs of Chicago, he believes that a lot of city people have preconceived notions about rural America — that there's nothing to do. However, he believes that the Think-Off proves this mindset wrong.

"This is like one of the best kept secrets in America," Rada said. "It's an unexpected thing that's in an unexpected place, and more people need to know about it. So kudos to the people that are here, that come out and support and make this thing happen."

This Think-Off was the 29th of its kind, and it will be back next year on June 10, 2023 for its 30th anniversary. If you want to get involved, contact the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center at 218-385-3339 or info@kulcher.org.

"It's amazing that (the Great American Think-Off) has lasted that long; not many things last that long," Rada concluded. "So that says a lot about the community. I just want more people around the whole nation to know what this is all about."

Elizabeth (she/her), 23, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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