Confidence shines through at 2022 California Sol Great Debate at University of San Diego
The National Hispanic Institute’s Great Debate program is a place where many high school students find more confidence in their voices. For nearly 100 students from the United States and México — including contingents from Las Vegas and a Seattle-area high school — the 2022 California Sol Great Debate, held at the University of San Diego from July 12 to 17, delivered on its promise.
“I met amazing coaches who taught me how to improve my oratory presentation,” said Ariana Cullen-Diaz, of St. Francis High School in Mountain View, Calif., named one of the program’s most improved students. “I also met so many people, including my amazing roommates who I connected with from the start and so many other friends who I’ve kept in touch with.”
“When I arrived at the event,” she noted, “I was nervous about meeting new people and how my interactions would go. But I found myself very comfortable around the participants and coaches. I was able to connect with other people and collaborate.”
“It was definitely a roller coaster of emotions,” said Yarely Gutierrez, one of a group of students from Kent-Meridian High School encouraged to make the NHI journey by an alumni member, Alfredo Lozano, who teaches at the suburban Seattle high school.
While she noted that she experienced some initial anxiety in meeting new people, and found the program challenging at first, she flourished and was part of a cross examination team that finished in the top places.
“It unfolded me as a person and furthered more my abilities of communication and also partnership skills,” she reflected. “Since I was the leader of the duo, I took in that leadership and did the best performance for not only myself, but also my partner.”
“NHI truly is a life changing experience,” reflected Soren Smith, from Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, who came to the program via a partnership between NHI and Sands Cares. “Coming home from the Great Debate, I started to have a different outlook on life and realized truly how small of a bubble I live in.”
“NHI helped me meet so many new people with so many different backgrounds,” Smith added, noting that he’s still communicating with his fellow students even after the program has concluded. “I found myself not wanting to leave … and I am truly so grateful and glad that I got this experience and got to be a part of something bigger and greater than myself.”
“I went into the program believing my perspective might be slightly changed on how I try to understand the world … when in reality, my entire mindset changed,” said Samantha Perez from Patriot High School in Junqua Valley, Calif.
“I had no clue where my limit was in writing and intellectual growth,” she added. “Then I realized I had no limit. Just like the great fundamental to ‘appreciate and acknowledge,’ did just that subconsciously. Along with courage, curiosity, and determinationm I learned I can accomplish so much more then I possibly could have imagined.”
“The first ever California Sol Great Debate was amazing and full of insightful thoughts and ideas all around,” observed Regina Legarreta, one of the principal staff members coordinating the USD-hosted program. “Seeing the participants’ growth from day one to day six was like night and day.”
“We saw participants who were extremely shy and reserved blossom and help their fellow participants by encouraging them and lifting them up,” she added. I believe these participants were introduced to ideas and questions about their community that they had never been asked or exposed to. The California Sol Great Debate participants and staff all became a family — we had the longest week with the shortest days and got to learn and grow together.”
Awards earned by students during the program include:
Hall of Fame Award
Armando Flores, Colegio Ignacio Zaragoza, Saltillo, Coahuila, México
Mary Cuellar, Kent-Meridian High School, Kent, Wash.
1st Place: Montse Massieu, Sierra Nevada Interlomas, Mexico City, México
2nd Place: Regina Flores, Colegio Ignacio Zaragoza, Saltillo, Coahuila, México
All-State: Marco Espinoza, Colegio Ignacio Zaragoza, Saltillo, Coahuila, Méxic
1st Place: Armando Zertuche, Colegio Ignacio Zaragoza, Saltillo, Coahuila, México
2nd Place: Francisco Montejo, Fallbrook Union High School, Fallbrook, Calif.
All-State: Soraya Hernandez, La Salle College Preparatory, Pasadena, Calif.
1st Place: Gisela Salazar, Kent-Meridian High School, Kent, Wash. and Esmeralda Almanzan, Pueblo High School, Tuscon, Ariz.
2nd Place: Amanda Jimenez, Rancho High School, Las Vegas, Nev. and Tony Leon, Rancho High School, Las Vegas, Nev.
All-State Leader: Yarely Gutierrez, Kent-Meridian High School, Kent, Wash. and Andrew Moore, Palos Verdes High School, Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
1st Place: Taylor Luna, St. Francis High School, Los Altos, Calif.
2nd Place: Julio Cesar Tovar, Fallbrook Union High School, Fallbrook, Calif.
3rd Place: Valentina Caballero, Colegio Ignacio Zaragoza, Saltillo, Coahuila, México
- Ariana Cullen-Diaz, St. Francis High School, Mountain View, Calif.
- Dianel Espinoza, Kent-Meridian High School, Kent, Wash.
- Trinidad Islas-Garrido, Fallbrook Union High School, Fallbrook, Calif.
- Angel Morales Gonzalez, Kent-Meridian High School, Kent, Wash.
- Jennifer Romero, La Salle College Preparatory, Pasadena, Calif.
- Sofia Paola Toro, Kearny High School, San Diego, Calif.
- Luis Vasquez, King Chavez Community High School, San Diego, Calif.
The 2022 California Sol Great Debate was made possible in part by a partnership with Sands Cares.