Virginia native moves to Valley, finds her voice, excels in debate

HARLINGEN — She came from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia two years ago, a quiet girl who hadn’t found her voice.

Two years later, Irene Tyler, 15, has become a powerful force in the world of debate, competing in heated competitions as part of the Speech, Drama and Debate Team at Harlingen High School.

“I like to see things from different points of view, to get a perspective from both sides,” said Irene, a sophomore.

“I always had ideas about different policies. I always knew a lot, but I never spoke up,” she said.

Tasha Kneis, the Speech Drama and Debate Team sponsor, remembers a shy girl, new to the school, the culture, the Valley when she began the 2014 – 2015 school year as a freshman. Kneis invited Irene to join the Speech, Drama, and Debate team. She marvels now at the way Irene has come into her own.

“Irene has truly found her voice since joining debate,” Kneis said. “She is a very confident young lady who now has an outlet to express her ideas and opinions. She’s an avid reader and she has some wonderful ideas.”

Irene has always been a voracious reader and with a good retention level.

“I read a lot of newspapers,” she said. “I read a lot of young adult literature. I read a lot of philosophy books. Philosophy has always been interesting to me in the way people look at the world.”

Irene was recently practicing a debate with a fellow student who said it was too easy for the wrong people to own guns.

Irene had an immediate come back.

“Do you think this will deter good people from actually getting guns?” Irene said.

Debate differs from arguing in that the debater must understand both sides of an issue and be prepared to defend either side. This has given her the chance to follow one of her passions: understanding different points of view.

Her extensive reading is serving her in other ways. She’s number four in her class, which might surprise some of her teachers in Virginia.

The culture shock from moving to South Texas was more than the shift from pine-covered mountains to palm trees and beaches. She found teachers here who paid more attention to all the students. Some of the teachers in Virginia seemed to focus most of their attention on the students who were at the top of the class.

“When I came down here I got a lot of attention from teachers because I was new,” she said.

The world seems to have opened up for her. She writes extensively from young adult fiction to science fiction and fantasy, “anything that flows through my head.”

As a sophomore, she has time to decide what she wants to do after graduation, but she’s looking at teaching or psychology.

“I like people,” she said. “I like listening to people.”