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Tuesday March 14, 2017 Edition
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American Legion Oratorical Contest Promotes Constitutional Literacy

Alyse Beauchemin represented her home  American Legion Post #14 for the third time at the state championships.
photo by provided
Alyse Beauchemin represented her home American Legion Post #14 for the third time at the state championships.

Tuesday March 14, 2017

By Cookie Steponaitis

At a time in American politics where people know they have freedom of speech and most seem to be utilizing it, a speaking contest begun by the American Legion in 1938 focuses youth on developing a deeper understanding and appreciation for the United States Constitution. The American Legion Oratorical has long been known as one of the most challenging but rewarding contests for young orators. The contest challenges each student to research, write and deliver an 8-10 minute speech on some phase of the United States Constitution and deliver a 3-5-minute oration on one of four assigned topics related to the Bill of Rights or the Constitution with only five minutes preparation.
    Students begin at a local level and advance through divisional and finally state contests and are not allowed notes, podium, sound system or any kind of coaching. Speaking from memory or from talking points rehearsed for months, students take the sometimes murky language of the original document and bring it into focus with examples from past and current situations as well. Topics such as executive orders, role of the Senate, checks and balances, illegal search and seizure, polarization, and the role of the Supreme Court leap off the page of the document and into practice through the speech of each orator. People attending the state contest annually remark on the skills of the teen speakers and amount of learning that occurs.
    On Saturday, March 11th the divisional winners for the state championship presented in White River Junction, Vermont. They were not allowed in the room while each other spoke and competitors gave their two orations unaware of the differences in style, content or ability of each contestant. It is an exercise in Constitutional literacy for the audience and judges it was a great battle to watch unfold. At the end of the event VUHS senior Alyse Beauchemin earned her third consecutive title as state champion and the right to advance to the national contest April 19-21st in Indianapolis, Indiana. At the national level the top three speakers earn $18,000, $16,000 and $14,000 for college respectively and enter into a group of past speakers that have gone on to careers in sports, politics, medicine, education, engineering, religion, agriculture and many more. What bonds them together is the skill of public speaking, the love of their history and an understanding and appreciation for what the Constitution really says and means. The Valley Voice salutes Alyse and wishes her the best of luck in her senior year and third trip to a contest some call the crown jewel of high school public speaking and others call a lesson in Constitutional Comprehension that more Americans could all benefit from. The title of Beauchemin’s winning oratory? “The United States Constitution: A Source of Hope in Times of Strife and Polarization.”

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