Yes! It is true. The National Hispanic Institute (NHI) at San Antonio generated another high school class of fantastic freshman to win the Ambassador Great Debate in Austin, Texas from July 22-July 26, 2015.
The mission of the National Hispanic Institute, founded in 1979 by Ernesto Nieto, is to develop, train and grow future Latino leaders through education and skills.
High school freshman, sophomores and juniors are nominated, apply and are selected based upon academic achievement and the potential to succeed. NHI has grown to include participants from 26 states and seven countries. In San Antonio, this helps our local students to become the future leaders of our city, helping us reach the SA2020 vision in education and civic engagement.
Even though my mother is a trial lawyer, I have never aspired to be one. Cross-examination was the last thing I thought I would fall in love with when I was accepted to NHI at SA. I was wrong.
From March through May, I attended trainings on Saturday with a committed group of volunteer staff, who are dedicated to preparing 150 students for the experience of a lifetime. Although it required giving up half of my Saturday, I grew personally — gaining great confidence as a leader, competitor, and speaker with each training leading up to the competition. In addition, I made long-lasting friendships with students from all over San Antonio. I quickly knew I was a member of a special familia.
It was truly amazing to see SA’s great debaters evolve from the first experience of nervously standing on a stage holding a microphone opening up about our passions to becoming aggressive competitors. The staff was the key to our success. Our staff was made up of community volunteers and former Great Debaters, who loved it so much they came back to become mentors. These generous volunteers poured their hearts and time into preparing us for the competition based upon personal experience, real world advice and true tips leading us to victory.
Before I knew it, the competition date was around the corner. We left on a Thursday, bound for the University of Texas at Austin to experience staying in a college dorm for four days – a first for many. I didn’t realize how intense this contest was until the debaters from all over Texas convened in one auditorium cheering for their region including the Tip of Texas, the Rio Grande Valley, Houston, El Paso, Laredo, and Baytown. The pressure, the pride and the passion were on from that moment until the announcement of the champions. This debate brought young men and women together to compete and collaborate ideas about visions for the future of NHI. I really enjoyed this part of the experience.
As for cross-examination, I loved the rush of having to think on my feet. I learned to be a better listener to be able to argue against the points made by the competition. My partner, Francisco Valdovinos of St. Anthony HS, a fiercely persuasive speaker, and I broke to the Sweet Sixteen. The contest rounds seemed to go by very quickly. The suspense of learning whether my team had broken into the next round was heart-pounding. Making it to the Sweet Sixteen meant an invitation to Celebración in Dallas in November of this year. It also meant a chance to make it to the elite eight, final four and champions.
In the end, the San Antonio debaters in all four categories were shining stars. Every single SA freshman, individually and collectively contributed returning the Silver Cup to San Antonio as champions of the Great Debate three years in a row! When the announcement was made, the sound was deafening as a cheering group of SA debaters rushed the stage. Winning, however, is more than a trophy for our great city. It symbolizes a promise that NHI SA is fostering future leaders for the community and beyond.
I plan to continue my journey at NHI with the second leadership program, my sophomore year. Participation in NHI has changed my perception of my culture, my dreams and my personal mission to become a Latina leader one day, and help make big dreams like SA2020 come true for our community. An eye-opening encounter was the difficulty debaters had in naming contemporary Latino leaders. My fellow debaters and I are motivated to change that. I found my voice as they did. Those voices with ideas for a new era have to be heard not only in our San Antonio community but the nation and the world.
After all, we are on the path to becoming the next city leaders, CEOs, engineers, professors, state representatives and community activists. The National Hispanic Institute has opened that door of opportunity for youth and has taught, in the words of founder, Mr. Nieto, “Remain focused, keep going and just don’t give up…”