There I was at the podium, ready to present as the first speaker in my state wide debate championship. But this debate was not just about a 10 minute moment in time; this journey totally challenged my perception of myself and how I viewed the world around me. It lit a fire that has been burning down obstacles ever since.

After being chosen as first chair, I was filled with joy because my hard work had paid off. I was completely ready to represent my school and take home the title…or so I thought. I thought I was a strong and level-headed person who was immune to self-doubt and depression. However, this experience clawed into my soul and ripped out insecurities that I was forced to relive and confront head on.

As a child, I thought I was unworthy of any success because I was a relatively poor and closeted gay teenager in one of the most homophobic counties in my state. I had to learn to live a convincing lie day-in day-out. I felt trapped in my own body, unable to be my true self. I would sleep on my tear-drenched pillow, hoping for a future when I could walk hand in hand with the guy of my dreams. Conventional wisdom would have me exiled to the darkest shadows of society, cut off from family, friends, and my identity.

I knew I had to get creative and be willing to accept continuous discomfort because I wanted to do more than simply survive this harsh climate; I wanted to thrive in it. So when other kids were playing softball, I would be inside practicing my speech. Even though I was a minority in a tiny, underdeveloped town, I always believed that I could challenge the status quo and change the world. People thought I was crazy; with their derogatory words, they would tease me relentlessly.

Overtime, I learned to block out those corruptive thoughts of suicide and self-hate. It took quite some time, but I could finally look in the mirror and shout out loud, “YOU ARE WORTHY!” I felt the pieces of my personality slowly realigning. No longer would I envision failure on the debate stage, because I had conquered more daunting inner demons before. With nothing to lose, I was able to enrich both myself and my school. I was here, not because of charity or luck, but rather it waws my own tenacity that automatically made it impossible for me to accept NO for an answer, EVER.

Yes, we won the debate in an amazing spectacle, but when someone asks about my debate season, I spend little time on that snapshot in time; I became much more than that single speech. I became mentally sharper, emotionally stable, and socially aware. My decision to take myself seriously was the best decision I ever made. I transformed my potential into purpose and passion. Make no mistake, I am very far from completely figuring out this thing called life. ‘Adulthood’ is still a very foggy figure before me, however, deep down, at my absolute core, I believe I can clear the fog and step into the light, with my indomitable spirit.