BY KAYA DWYER
Sat across from me was a girl with the biggest, honey-brown eyes I had ever seen. Her hair was a similar color but with a hint of a chocolate tone that complemented the shape of her face, with a few curly pieces around her jawline and the rest pulled-up behind. To the left of her, a window with a soft light that would reflect against her eyes throughout the interview. The glimpse of light was shaped in her eye exactly how the window looked on the wall, it would later remind me of the window as she opened it to allow me to experience her past.
Paige Gonzales is someone who has experienced many of the positives and negatives of life. She has made a name for herself on the Speech & Debate circuit as well as other parts of the fine arts as a woman with a tender, cackling laugh, and a big love for what she does. “I think nationals was completely different from what I expected in all of the best ways. I was obsessive about speech and debate when I was just learning the ropes, I still pretty much am,” Gonzales says. In no way is Gonzales secretive about the hardships she has faced throughout her high school career and how she overcame them. And as of Dec. 11, 2020, Gonzales had faced one of her biggest hardships yet: she lost her father during the pandemic and the competition season. “It made the win bittersweet when my dad wasn’t there, because I had so many expectations of what that would be like – and once I finally did it, I didn’t have that person.” And although I could not see it, I felt a warmth surrounding her every time she talked about her father and how much he meant to her. “He always said, ‘I don’t care if you come home with a trophy, I’m going to be proud of you no matter what because I know how hard you worked, and that’s what really matters.’’ Gonzales continued to work assiduously, exceeding all expectations as she went on to place third overall at Catholic Forensics League (CFL) Nationals. During the award ceremony at Nationals, the tradition is for your coach to give you your trophy. And ever since she was a freshman with a twinkle in her eye and a spark in her heart, she said, “I remember, I turned to my dad and I said, ‘I don’t want it to be my coach, I want you to do it. I’ll be on that stage, Dad.’” It wasn’t just Gonzales’ father that saw the excitement in her. Her coach, Jeri Willard noticed a change too, saying “Paige would always stay connected and true to her message in all of her pieces. She would always work hard to make sure her pieces worked.”
And it was her dad who would always be there with her, experiencing the passion she had felt by her side. But now that he isn’t able to be there for award ceremonies or tournament conclusions, Gonzales has begun to see specific ideas in a new light – a light just as strong as the one that would now cover half of her face. “The feeling of someone being proud of you… I think we always take that for granted because once it happens once, we feel like we have to re-earn it, and in my case, I don’t get that again. I don’t get a deliberate ‘I’m proud of you’ from my dad. So I hold on to the times when it was said to me, and almost the feeling of what I did that made him proud.”
Gonzales uses her means of self-love to live, in a way, through her father, going on to say how she values even the little things so much more than she did before. At this point, Gonzales’ face was covered in bright light from the outside. The shadow of the window panes still reflected on her, but what stood out to me most was the gleam of tears forming around her eyes, not a single one of which would fall. But through her passion for speech, she had discovered even more passion beyond that realm. “I have all of these memories attached to the work going into pieces, and that’s what I define as passion. Being able to have all of that and still wanting to love it and go for it, even if it’s not easy.” Because whoever said life was easy was a pathological liar, and Paige Gonzales is our walking, living proof of that fact.
“It made me realize whenever he said it, how much he meant it. I can still hear him saying it-”
“I’m proud of you.”
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