Students excel at 2017 Texas Star Great Debate, “The heart of NHI”
Educational Director Paola Hernandez calls the Texas Star Great Debate “the heart” of the National Hispanic Institute, and that heart was on display all week as students from across Texas, and as far away from New Mexico and California, concluded their six-day program at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio on Sunday.
“It was invigorating, it was exciting,” Hernandez proclaimed, noting that it was additionally, personally special to her because of the number of participants whose parents and siblings were NHI alumni. “They’re amazing in their own way because they never give up. There’s so much heart involved in everything they do. It goes everywhere, it’s contagious, and really transmits the love that they feel for one another.”
One participant, Paulina Cumpian of Eagle Pass, Texas, was already well familiar with NHI, as the organization had previously named her mother, Dora Cumpian, as NHI Counselor of the Year for the work she does to help get students to NHI programs. Paulina recalled attending the Celebracion event in sixth grade, when her mother was honored, and being impressed by how nice NHI people were and how many people talked about how life-changing the NHI experience was.
“Everyone was so joyous,” she said. “I thought, ‘Wow, I want to do that, I want to be happy, I want to meet new people and learn how to debate.'”
“I wasn’t really going to give her an option,” Dora added. “She was going to come, and she was going to live it, and she was going to experience it.” She added that seeing the growth of prior students who’d gone through NHI programs made her resolute that her daughter was not going to be the exception.
Unlike the Texas Great Debate, for which teams assemble and prepare months beforehand, students participate in a combine to showcase their public speaking skills — in events some
Members of the winning team, based on how team members scored in their individual events, included Maya Avila (El Paso, Texas), Leonel Cortez (Donna, Texas), Kayla De La Rosa (San Antonio, Texas), Sarah Eckenroth (Converse, Texas), Anthony Hernandez (Edinburg, Texas), Abigayle Jose (Atascosa, Texas), and Saidie Lopez (Corpus Christi, Texas).
Eckenroth, who won the Oratory category with a speech that used a photosynthesis analogy to highlight her views on the program’s themes, described the Texas Star Great Debate finals experience as “really exhilarating, because I really wanted to share my speech with all of the other people here at the program. When I was finally able to do so, I was very content with myself.”
Lazaro Garza of Mission, Texas, the other Oratory finalist, said of the Texas Star Great Debate, “It’s just an overall amazing program. There are not enough words to eloquently describe how I feel about the Great Debate.” Though he describes initially having difficulty adjusting to the lack of sleep, he sums up the entire experience as “fantastic.”
NHI will run additional six-day Great Debate programs this year at Augustana College in the Quad Cities, at Villanova University in the Philadelphia metro area, and the Texas Ambassador Great Debate in Austin.
This program was made possible in part by sponsorship from State Farm, Union Pacific, and Winston & Strawn LLP.