AUSTIN, Texas — A recent graduate of the Pflugerville Independent School District is making history as a champion in this year’s National Speech and Debate Association tournament in Dallas. 

  • Placed first out of 242 students
  • First Pflugerville ISD and African-American student to win the title
  • Plans to study at UT Austin

Rene Otero, 18, placed first out of 242 students in the international extemporaneous speaking category. 

“Especially international extemp, it allows you to take yourself out a problem, allows you not to think about yourself, but truly think about the experience of other people across the globe. It’s a litmus for how much you truly care and how much you are willing to advocate,” said Otero, who graduated from Hendrickson High School.

“Renee is probably one of the most charismatic students I have ever met. You meet him and within minutes you’re deeply in conversation about your life,” said Kirsten Nash, director of speech and debate at Hendrickson High School. “He has a way of connecting to people that is very unique and special. He works really hard, he’s extremely diligent, but he also has a lightness and a humor about him that just make being his teacher, being his coach fun.” 

In the extemporaneous speaking category, students draw a topic and have 30 minutes to research and come up with a speech that is six to seven minutes long, then present it. Otero is not only the first student in the district to win the national title, but he is also the first African-American student to do so. The competition has been around since 1931. 

“It’s really important for young African American students to be able to look and say, this kid is like me and he was a national champion. So, there isn’t a barrier, there’s not a ceiling,” Nash said. 

Otero said in the four years he has been participating in competitions, he did not see a lot of students who looked like him. 

“I wanted to make it known that we speak alongside people, we don’t speak for them, we don’t empower people, we give them the tools to empower themselves,” he said.  

In the fall, Otero plans on attending the University of Texas at Austin, but he has been around campus in the summer as an instructor for a speech and debate summer camp for high school students. He also hopes to increase access to those programs. 

“These resources are extremely inaccessible to lots of people. That creates a form of intersection when it comes to access to resources and the color of your skin in extemp, and so I wanted to defy these boundaries and that’s what kept my interested and kept me motivated,” Otero said. “Your identity shouldn’t be your barrier to your success, it should be your level of hard work.”