A gavel strikes the fake wood of a Marriott conference room table to call its guests to order. Manning a podium stands someone most MAST students recognize, Christopher Penelas, or in this case; Governor Christopher Penelas. He is the Governor of the South East region of Junior State of America (JSA) a club that encourages civil activism in the form of debates. On the weekend of November 15th JSA held its first conference in the South East, Fall State.
A weekend of debating may not sound pleasant to most people, but JSA is more than a series of debates. It is a trip where students in can bond with one another and engage in thought provoking political conversations about the current state of affairs in our great nation.
My first JSA trip was to Winter Congress in Washington D.C. for four days. I was mostly entranced with the idea of snow, sightseeing not debating but in the days leading up to the trip, Penelas, then the president of our club, told us we had to write bills. The bills would be the legislation that we would debate at the mock Congress. I saw it as a small price to pay for snow and sightseeing, so I wrote the bill. The bill was on immigrant labor visas and the last thing that I had expected was that the bill would be chosen as a topic of debate. I enjoyed the debate, thus began my fervor for debating.
Anyone can discover a passion for debating. Members of JSA got to see it happen this weekend. Junior Lucas Pizzutti attended the Fall State conference and he brought his headstrong political views to the podium. When asked about the club, Lucas or “Pizzutti”, as his friends affectionately call him was all smiles.
“It is awesome, the way it creates an atmosphere that has kids develop interests in politics and foreign affairs is truly amazing. And I’ve been able to have amazing conversations with amazing people who really cherish their country and their civic duty,” Pizzutti, who’s debated eloquently, said.
He debated topics ranging from raising the minimum wage to cutting foreign aid to Israel and without hesitation he told people his mind. It’s no wonder by the end of the conference he was feared when he walked up to the podium.
Although the MAST debate team is only in its second year, it has enjoyed enormous success. We are already the second largest JSA club in the South East bringing 34 people to fall state. Sponsor Lindsey Peters-Jorge or as MAST students lovingly call her, Mrs. PJ, has ended our fear of public speaking, and if anything she’s made public speaking afraid of us. If there are two debates involving MAST students occurring at the same time, she will dash across the hotel in-between speeches to avoid missing a second of one of her student’s debate.
“I love being the debate coach for MAST Academy. It is not so much about winning an argument, but teaching my team to have the confidence and poise to organize their thoughts in a quick and effective manner while competing,” Peters-Jorge said.
Peters-Jorge without a doubt loves her position as debate coach. She has an earnest compassion that is unmatched, and that’s why the MAST JSA chapter has flourished under her guidance. The weekend of November 15th, Penelas, as well as juniors Christopher Alexander and George Perez, won their debates as well as a best speaker gavel.
The best speaker gavel, an award, is one of the most prestigious awards to be won in the club. You earn it by being the best speaker in your debate, and under the guidance of Peters-Jorge, MAST Academy will undoubtedly receive many more of these honors.