This was Riojas’ fourth year on the UIL science team. He won district titles all three years prior to this year but did not qualify to compete in state.
“It started the day I was a freshman because my ultimate goal has been to have one of my own banners in the auditorium with my name on it,” Riojas said.
But he came back packing a punch his senior year to score a 76 on the chemistry portion for first place and sixth place overall once his scores in physics and biology were factored in. He also was named valedictorian of his graduating class.
“I knew I really wanted it, so I had to change how I was studying,” Riojas said. “For me, it was to set a schedule of studying science two hours every day. It has been a hectic year.”
Riojas won district titles in science overall and had the top scores in chemistry and physics. At regionals he was top in science overall with top scores in chemistry and physics.
In addition to practicing on his own, Riojas worked with TRHS chemistry and physics teacher Judy Hudek and participated on the rocket team as well. He said some of the credit for his success goes to his freshman and sophomore year science teachers Rebecca Neal and Jessica Tom.
“Even though we study hard-core science, UIL makes it fun,” Riojas said.
After graduation, he plans on attending Texas A&M and major in chemical engineering. He hopes to work on rocket fuel since participating on the rocket team introduced him to propulsion engineering and it involves a lot of chemistry.
“To me because it was of my interest and passion for chemistry. The way I see it, chemistry is the central science of everything,” Riojas said. “It is what determines the composition and makeup of everything in the world. It is a passion and interest and becoming a hobby...an obsession.”
Rushing placed first in district and regional and spent the school-year competing at multiple tournaments against schools from 1A through 5A in size. She and the rest of the debate team participated in tournaments on a weekly to bi-weekly basis throughout the year.
“It was insane how much we had to go to, but to be ready we stayed after school until 7 p.m.,” Rushing said.“We want to do this. We make a lot of awesome connections.”
All of her practicing and competing paid off at state when she passed the semifinals with an unanimous vote from all three judges and won the finals on a split ballot of two to one.
Although speaking comes easily to Rushing now, it hasn’t always been this way. She had a hearing disability as a small child and had difficulty communicating. She said her mom enrolled her in every activity that involved communicating and speaking, such as plays, and when she hit high school she joined the debate team.
“I was always told I could argue with a post,” Rushing said. “As I overcame that I fell in love with public speaking. It was a way to have confidence and control over that part of my life.”
She worked with Superintendent Kenneth Rohrbach, the school’s debate coach, and TRHS graduate Josh Gutierrez to overcome those obstacles and excel in competition. But being able to speak well is only half the battle in the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
Rushing said knowing about what’s happening in the world today and understanding the philosophies involved in the debate give her an advantage over her competition.
“You have to know what is going on beyond Three Rivers,” Rushing said. “It’s a way to have fun and argue with someone who is not my parents and be able to overcome something that has always been an obstacle in my life.”
Rushing will prepare for next year’s competitions by attending a camp this summer and competing in Nationals in Birmingham, Ala., on June 16. After graduation next year, she wants to study journalism and psychology.
“My superintendent has the rule that, once I won, I have to go back and win again, so the pressure is on,” Rushing said. “He said everything is over but the pressure of winning again next year.”