ROCK ISLAND -- Latino students from around the state spent the last three days in the Quad-Cities debating one of their community"s top issues: the void in Latino leadership, an unfortunate trend they not only discuss, but hope to reverse.|
The Midwest Great Debate program wrapped up at Augustana College on Saturday with several individual students and teams being invited to the national debate competition in Texas later this year.
The program, which is part of The National Hispanic Institute"s Great Debate Series, addresses ongoing Latino leadership issues in the United States. NHI is the nation"s largest non-profit Latino youth organization
More than 100 sophomore high school students, all from the top 2 percent of their classes, participated in the event.
"These students are the cream of the crop," said Lydia Ruelas Duran, a NHI program director and Augustana graduate.
"At the institute, we look to these young Latino students as those who are going to give direction to this community that"s just growing and growing in this country, but doesn"t really have a sense of direction."
Jaime Escatel, from Argo Community High School in Summit, made it to the finalist round, during which he had to debate issues facing the global economy.
"We Latinos have the power to fix this with our hopes, ideas and the values we brought here," he said passionately, garnering loud applause from his fellow debaters.
"Soon, one of you will help us with new thoughts. We will finally step up and stop being afraid," he added.
The Great Debate was designed to cultivate leadership skills in the nation"s top performing Latino high school students.
It"s working, Mr. Escatel said.
"We all realize we should step up," he said. "With these leadership skills, I think I"ll get far. This will be great for my future."
Mr. Escatel spent several months preparing 16 different topics for the debate competition..
"We"ve had a lot of preparation. It was really fun. We had a great team, and I"m proud of myself and all my opponents. I feel great whether I win or lose," he said.
Mr. Escatel was overflowing with eagerness and adrenaline even after delivering his final debate.
"I didn"t even need a microphone," he joked. "I was so loud, I echoed out into the hallways. I"m excited by it."
That excitement is a treasure to NHI, especially since the average Latino teenager finds it extremely difficult to come up with even five examples of Hispanic leaders in this country.
"Out of the hundreds of times I"ve presented that question, there"s never a response," Ms. Ruelas Duran said. "They can"t respond to that, because this community is without leadership."
NHI hopes its participants go on to become community and business leaders of all sorts.
"Whether they want to be a nurse, or teacher or a biochemical engineer, we want them to be able to express any idea they have with confidence and without any fear," Ms. Ruelas Duran said.
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