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EPISD Student Spotlight: Cesar Meza, Chapin High

Cesar Meza

Cesar Meza engineering fair   Cesar Meza Engineering nationals

(CHAPIN HIGH SCHOOL Feb. 1, 2021) — Chapin Senior Cesar Meza is an unusual type of science geek: he’s a whiz at technology and a standout student at Chapin’s engineering magnet program, but he also is a gifted orator who has been a featured speaker at a national NASA webinar in Spanish. Cesar takes it all in stride, but his talents already earned him acceptance into Cal Tech and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – two top tier universities. This future scientist is the subject of our next EPISD Student Spotlight.

EPISD: Tell us about your passion for public speaking and how has it helped you during your high school years?

CESAR MEZA: I see public speaking as a mass conversation and there’s nothing like delivering a speech to get away from the things that drag you down. While this may be an unpopular opinion, when giving an address, I feel alive! Free! I can just be myself at the moment: maybe I’m feeling flamboyant and will say a couple of jokes; maybe I’m feeling tired and will wake up the crowd with interaction; maybe I’m feeling really uncomfortable and will start Russian kick-dancing (true story). I could say that public speaking has opened up many opportunities for me in high school, but I wholly believe every chance to speak in public is a gift in and of itself: pleasures that made my time all the more worthwhile.

EPISD: What are some of your accomplishments in public speaking?

CM: This year, I qualified for The National Individual Events Tournament of Champions, which is a slightly more exclusive competition for public speakers. Moreover, I have earned a National Speech and Debate Association Honor Society with Distinction award for my regional exploits. Other than that, I’ve been fortunate enough to compete at the national speech and debate tournament two times, and I placed 4th in Extemporaneous Speaking at the Technology Student Association National Conference.

EPISD: Why is it important for you to be able to communicate and present yourself publicly in both languages?

CM: Among other factors, public speaking depends on your words, your way of saying them, but most importantly, your wariness of the audience. To me, being able to present publicly in both English and Spanish is not as important as being able to present effectively to, say, both Anglo and Hispanic audiences, for example – a big difference. A language is only a tool we use to communicate, but culture provides the context for our exchanges. Therefore, I must amend the original question and respond by saying that being able to speak to different cultures – not merely speak in other languages – is quintessential to me as the basis for the effective collaboration we long to see today. If I can adequately do so, I’d only be doing my duty. 

EPISD: What are you doing to make the most of your senior year despite the pandemic?

CM: High school may be near its end, and I may not have a year of memories in person, but life is only beginning. So, what’s the point in clinging desperately to the longing of what could have been if I was fortunate enough to live through the things that have been and perhaps prudent enough to know what may be? In short, I firmly believe that this year should not be lived ‘differently’ simply because it is our senior year: if we strive to make the most of one year, what’s to stop us from making the most of them all? And if we strive to make the most of them all, why should one be exalted as anything more extraordinary? Pandemic or not, senior or freshman year, high school or grad school, I will continue to do as I have done: work, play, and talk, only in different circumstances (and in physical isolation).

EPISD: Tell us about your honors and achievements in high school outside of speech? 

CM: In my freshman year, my engineering team and I placed ninth in Engineering Design at the Technology Student Association National Conference; the next year, my new team and I secured the 1st place national victory in the same event. I also am a National AP Scholar, College Board National Hispanic Recognition Program winner, a Texas Music Scholar, and I earned a Rising Researcher Best Poster Presentation Award in the category of physics at UTEP’s summer undergraduate research symposium. I have also earned the Technology Student Association state and national Honor Societies’ distinctions.

EPISD: What extracurricular activities are you involved in besides speech? 

CM: I participate in the Technology Student Association, competing under the Engineering Design, Computer Integrated Manufacturing, and Extemporaneous Speech categories. Other than that, I play the violin for the school orchestra – and the Mariachi on the side! Beyond school, however, I practice or teach Taekwondo and work with a computational physics research cohort at UTEP.

EPISD: Tell us about your internship with NASA.

CM: The High School Aerospace Scholars Program was a year-long online course that focused on the past, present, and future of spaceflight, through which I earned a high school science credit. However, the top students – in pre-COVID circumstances – would have been invited to the Johnson Space Center for a week, where they would design a conceptual lunar mission and connect with employees at NASA. Fortunately, NASA held the event online. I had the chance to listen and talk to a psychologist, doctor, flight controller, suit specialist, and even an astronaut while working with a team of exemplary students across Texas.

EPISD: What college do you plan to attend, major in and what are your career aspirations?

CM: I got accepted at Caltech and MIT, but I’ve yet to decide where I will study formally. However, regardless of wherever I do end up going, I wish to major in mechanical engineering. Once I earn my degree, I sincerely hope to work in an engineering research, design, and development position at NASA or other partner firms such as Draper Laboratories. Life has its way of showing us where we’ll go; that I’ll be open to its possibilities is all I know. 

EPISD: What have you been doing outside of school activities to get through the pandemic? 

CM: Like most people, I’ve gotten into the habit of exercising and running around the neighborhood to take my mind off things. Moreover, I spend a modest amount of time fostering long-distance relationships with good friends both within the city and across the nation – something I must concede lockdown has helped promote. Other than that, my extracurriculars take up most of my extra time, leaving me with little left to ponder our pandemic.

EPISD: What is the first thing you plan to do when the pandemic is over? 

CM: If I’m going to be completely honest, I have not made any concrete plans. I suppose that’s because I’ve assimilated the idea – no matter how true or false – that the pandemic will not definitively ‘end.’ Our return to normalcy will be more of an easing than a spectacle: I’ll be able to do the things I’ve wanted to do, like hug friends and family or train without a facemask, overtime. Therefore, I don’t really consider my desires plans but eventualities. 

EPISD: Anything you’d like to add? 

CM: We are a product of the people around us, perhaps as much as we are products of our own passions, purposes, and perspectives. With that in mind, I’d like to say that any honors I’ve ever known are not merely mine, but of the people who made them possible: my research mentor, my TSA advisors, my teachers, my friends, my family – people I’ve met on the street, people I’ve met in competitions, and people who find my words worth their while. Thank you to all of you who helped me, to all of you who read this, and best of wishes to you all.

Interview by Reneé de Santos