OHS student heads for UIL Congress

Dec. 31—Odessa High School senior Priyanka Nagalla has been preparing for UIL Congress her entire high school career.

She has competed in University Interscholastic League and UIL Congress all four years of high school. This is the first year she has been crowned regional champion and a state qualifier.

The UIL Congress will be held Jan. 3-5 in Austin.

Nagalla said she competes in Lincoln-Douglas debate and extemporaneous speaking.

"Competing in the state Congress has always been an aspiration of mine because I think that debate, the skills and experience and knowledge that I've gained from debate over the past four years, has definitely helped me to communicate in a way that has made an impression on the judges and led to my advancement to state Congress. I'm looking forward to state Congress. I think there's going to be a lot more variety of debate from debaters across the state," Nagalla said.

Leading up to the UIL Congress, Nagalla said she and her peers debated topics ranging from teacher compensation to the extreme vetting process for asylum seekers.

"I think that we chose the teachers' compensation as a topic that would advance to state Congress from our UIL region. So me and the other state qualifiers chose that topic among many," Nagalla said.

Kennedi Hernandez is the OHS speech and debate coach.

"I would also like to highlight it was her first tournament. That was the first tournament this year that she got to compete in. It was the first one we had been able to travel to this year, so it was super impressive that she was able to advance the way she did. She was the only student from Odessa that made it," Hernandez said.

Hernandez is continuing the tradition of a string of state qualifiers from OHS from her father Aaron Cox. Cox was the speech and debate coach at OHS before moving to George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa.

"I had some big shoes to fill," Hernandez said.

She plans to go with Nagalla to Austin in January.

"The competition is usually a chamber of about 20 students. We have usually two judges with one parliamentary who oversees the debate. Make sure that it's a fair and honorable debate and respectable debate, as well as the judges who judge on everything from speaking, eye contact social cues to the actual content of what is being said, and the evidence that is being provided," Nagalla said.

She added that it's always nerve racking.

"I think knowing that we've assembled at the tournament for a cause, and that cause will be debating ... real-world issues that deserve solutions and that we can help make the world a better place by debating on these issues and bringing up hypothetical solutions," Nagalla said.

The process has also helped her gain knowledge about how laws are made.

"I think every piece of legislation that I look at, I'm looking at how the bills are structured, or how the resolutions are structured. That can be a topic of the debate itself is this legislation worth debating on? Because if it's not then how can we improve this piece of legislation to best help the people," she added.

Hernandez said she thinks it starts with about 50 students for the preliminaries and in the final round it gets down to about 20.

Along with Nagalla, two students from Legacy High School in Midland will compete. This will be a chance for Nagalla to network with other students and hear new ideas and viewpoints.

The top three will take titles, she said.

When she found out she won at regionals and would move on to state, Nagalla said she couldn't believe it.

"It was definitely a shock to me because I didn't expect this win, especially the last three years. However, I also felt that the hard work and dedication and the mindset that I had to never give up on the things that are seemingly impossible. But with hard work, I can make things seem possible. So it was definitely a happy moment," she added.

Nagalla said she is optimistic about UIL Congress.

"I think I'll do well and gain new experiences and gain an open mind, which regardless if I win or not, debate will stay with me for the rest of my life. Regardless of which field I go into, communication matters; research matters; networking matters; and I know those things will stay with me," Nagalla said.

Nagalla said she has been getting ready for UIL Congress by preparing evidence that she wants to state in her cases and speeches.

"I prepared through, of course, researching and communicating with the Permian team. We made sure that there was a level of preparedness and understanding on what the topics were about, and how we could best convey the overarching goal of the debate, which is to help the constituents hypothetically," Nagalla said.

Hernandez said they had the support of the PHS debate team.

"Permian's team stepped up, and since we're sister schools, they really helped support her. She supported them and it was really awesome to see that happen," Hernandez added.

While debate is an individual event, she noted that the team supports you with movements, affirming and negating, among other things.

Hernandez added that "an insane amount of research" that goes into the UIL bills. They had 20 bills they had to prepare cases for and against, which means they had to essentially write 40 cases.

"It is a lot of practice and a lot of research for that and she killed it. She killed it because she didn't write out her speeches, she spoke extemporaneously on the research she had done," Hernandez said.

Nagalla said she prefers to gather all the evidence that she's researched and convey her own points by weaving the evidence into "how I can best convey through the points that I can argue."

She's not sure yet where she wants to go to college.

"There's a lot of great places that I would love to go — in state and out of state. For instance, I'm thinking about Rice, as well as UT Austin," Nagalla said.

She would like to study medicine and economics. Her father is a general surgeon.

"I think those are two very important factors in the world and I think they always will be. Debating has definitely brought about a way through which I can empathize with other people because I am understanding and analyzing their arguments, as well as being open minded. I think the way people articulate themselves is very important, especially in the healthcare field and so understanding where other people come from, how their problems have impacted them, is definitely an important issue to consider," Nagalla said.

Hernandez said debate is one of the best ways to prepare for college of all of the programs schools can offer.

"Colleges love debate kids. They love debate kids," Hernandez said.