Anyone Can Wear a Mask-Jose Quinones

As a kid, I would always argue that the best power is invisibility.  With an illustrious record of mischief, the prospect of being able to do anything without being able to be held accountable or even be seen was an aspiration.  Yet as I grew up I gained the power myself and let me say, Into the Spiderverse makes invisibility a lot cooler than it actually is.

Once I got into 8th grade, my middle school had introduced a new speech and debate program, something my mom thought would be great for me to sign up for since I told her I might want to be a lawyer once.  As I took my first step into Speech and Debate and my classroom my invisibility activated. There was no possible way I could present in front of people or advocate for an idea that someone might disagree with, that just seemed impossible.  So I did “junior debate” and simply let my partner do all the work for me. In high school, this perfect scheme ran into two hiccups. Not only was “junior debate” not a thing in high school, but my partner had gone to a different school. I was alone and invisible in a place that constantly wanted to see me. I decided that I simply would fulfill my speech & debate credits quietly and not return sophomore year. I did Congress an event where I could easily hide in the sea of students and not even have to speak yet every mandatory tournament ending with no award, surrounded by my own overachieving classmates made me want to be more like them. Fleeing from the world of Congress I decided to make myself shown once more with one of the events that was the most out of my comfort zone: Extemporaneous Speaking.  As someone who is admittedly not used to being critiqued or wrong, becoming visible automatically translated to becoming vulnerable and as I got very simple and kind critiques on my first 48-second extemp speech the only advice I got was from myself. “I can do better”.

Throughout those last couple of months of freshman year, I stubbornly worked on trying to become the best extemper believing that the only way I could learn was through my own volition and capabilities.  Instead of invisible, I had become impenetrable, no critique would change how I would speak, and I suffered. Loss after loss accumulated until I simply had to watch my 3 classmates in their final round of novice states because I had dropped hard in prelims. Sophomore year, I stubbornly pushed forward becoming a pain for not only myself but also my captains who tried their hardest to help me. Each attempt reminded me more and more that I was neither where I wanted to be nor where the people supporting me wanted me to be.  My own superpower had very quickly become an ability to isolate myself from the world around me. While all the negative critiques and insults towards my extemp abilities could not get through my thick skin, neither could the positive ones and compliments. I was quickly becoming a lost cause.

I spent much of my sophomore year realizing that not only was my ability to speak deteriorating but so was my confidence. I was becoming more and more scared of trusting myself. I decided I just needed a trial by fire and went to as many national tournaments as I could. Turns out, I’m also shockingly fireproof. Dropping in prelims at every national tournament didn’t teach me this crazy life lesson to persevere through the issues and come out better on the other side. It simply showed me that I sucked.  Bronx, Glenbrooks, Berkeley and all I had to show was a dinky plate from Impromptu quarters at Berkeley. By the end of the year, the only thing I had to look forward to was our regionals tournament. By then, I had given up. I decided that regionals was my last tournament, so I’m would just cause trouble and accept the universe’s ranks. In those few rounds, I finally broke down that shell which had prevented me from succeeding. Between risky jokes and a repeat question, I had the best day of my life.

Following my fun-filled day at regionals, I realized something. I didn’t need to have some out of this world superpower to be a good extemper, I had to be myself. As cheesy as it sounds, I came to learn that Extemp isn’t about being the next Jacob Thompson or Arel Rende, it’s about transforming an argument into your own creative art piece. Once I stopped plagiarizing and started creating my own art I saw people loved my art. I got second at regionals and directly followed that up with semifinals at states. I went into junior year with a newfound passion, a passion to be superhuman. A superhuman who gave people a reason to care just as much as he did about issues. Through my ventures, I found both competitive success—finaling Bronx and winning Sunvite—and the true joys of extemp, a platform to be myself. I found my home in Extemp, and I think that’s what it’s all about.

Not everyone wants to be superhuman and not everyone has to be. Whether you prefer being invisible, fireproof, or impenetrable, everyone should find their reason. If there is one piece of advice I can deliver, it’s one that I definitely ripped off from Spider-Man: Anyone can wear the mask and be a superhero, just like anyone can give a speech and be a good extemper. The person behind that mask, however, is the person truly set to change the world, so make extemp your own.