Elisa Galvan stands a little over five feet, but her speech on Saturday night to some of Harper College's biggest supporters loomed large.
The Harper sophomore from Hoffman Estates was selected to be the evening's student speaker as one of two recipients of one of the college's major scholarships, the Motorola Solutions Foundation Award for Excellence.
"I am so fortunate to be given this opportunity," said Galvan, whose parents came to this country from Mexico 11 years ago. "I just want to represent Harper the best way that I can."
She did. The crowd gave her a heartfelt applause, especially after seeing her in action on Harper's speech team during the evening's video, that featured some of the college's "stars of the future."
Galvan says the scholarship changed her life, in more ways than one. Not only did it make college accessible for her -- she is the first in her family to attend -- but after going to Harper and becoming involved in its activities, she was able to decide what she wants to do with the rest of her life. She wants to become a teacher.
In fact, she is hoping to transfer next year to DePaul University after completing her general education courses at Harper. There, she plans on pursuing her teaching degree and continue with her speech and debate activities in its rhetoric program.
"The more classes I took at Harper," Galvan says, "the more passionate I became about becoming a teacher."
Galvan attended the gala with her mother, Maricela Alva, whom she describes as her inspiration.
"Both my parents have inspired me to be a better person," Galvan said, "to have strong morals, and to reach for something bigger than myself."
By attending college and succeeding as captain of the debate team, Galvan's mother hopes it will inspire her twin 8-year-old daughters to have the same aspirations.
"Her father and I are very proud of her," Alva said of her oldest daughter.
Galvan paved the way for her speech on Saturday at Schaumburg High School, where she first participated in debate. The school's team competes in Congressional style debate, and Galvan worked her way up to being the research chairman.
As a result, she led her teammates in researching the different legislation and public policy measures that they were debating at competitions. By her senior year, Galvan was vice president and a co-captain of the team.
One thing Harper offered her, she reasoned, was an award-winning speech and debate program. Galvan enrolled in a summer course, even before she started, aimed at preparing students for the parliamentary style debate used by Harper students.
Galvan now competes in "impromptu" debate, where students are given a quotation and in just over a minute and a half, they have to deliver a five-minute speech on the topic.
Her favorite is "extemporaneous speaking," where students are given 30 minutes to prepare a seven minute speech. Topics run the gamut from world events and international policy, to current topics, including the presidential election.
Speaking on Saturday to a room filled with corporate leaders, faculty members and administration members wasn't quite extemporaneous speaking, but it did draw on all her training on how to think on her feet and deliver a strong speech.
"I am very lucky to have been chose to give this speech," she said. "I just want to be able to give back in some way for all that Harper has given me."