American Legion hosts orators

Published 10:35 pm Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Two Nansemond River High School students will compete this Thursday for a chance to move forward in the American Legion Oratorical Contest.

Both students will be competing at 6 p.m. Thursday at American Legion Post 88, where they will showcase two orations on topics provided by the National American Legion. The competition will be held at 4301 Pughsville Road.

“Oratorical is a program of the American Legion. It has to do with the emphasis that the American Legion takes on Americanism,” said Greg Mueller, chairman of the 2017-2018 Virginia Oratorical Committee. “The goal is to teach young people what it means to be a citizen and in this case, with the oratorical contest, they gain a better appreciation for the U.S. Constitution, which is the subject matter of their competition.”

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Gerald Rhoades, adjutant for Post 88, declined to name the students participating.

The American Legion has the possibility of awarding $138,000 in scholarships each year, depending on how many students compete. Contestants that get past the first round of the competition are awarded a $1,500 scholarship, and the national contest winner receives an $18,000 scholarship.

There are four rounds before contestants travel to the national quarterfinals.

“There is only one winner from each round. Kids go from the post level, then the district level. The Suffolk posts are just two of the 14 posts in the district. Each post can advance a student to the next level,” Mueller said.

The other American Legion post in Suffolk, the Norman R. Matthews Post No. 57, does not do its own oratorical contest, post member Denis Confer said. Instead, the two posts split American Legion programs that encompass the entire city.

The contestants will give two orations: one that is pre-planned and one that is off the cuff. The planned topic must be about the Constitution and emphasize a citizen’s duties and obligations to the government, according to the American Legion website. The oration must be at least eight minutes long but no longer than 10 minutes.

The second oration is based on a topic pulled from a hat. The potential topics are the Second Amendment, Third Amendment, Fifteenth Amendment, or Article 2 Section 4 of the Constitution. Each contestant has five minutes to prepare, and their oration must be more than three minutes but no longer than five minutes.

The topics stay the same through each round, and the topics can change from year to year. All of this is decided upon by the National American Legion, according to Mueller.

The oratorical contest has been a part of the American Legion since 1938, and it “exists to develop deeper knowledge and appreciation for the U.S. Constitution among high school students,” according to the American Legion website.

“This is a skill that will serve them well through their life. Being a good orator and having these skills to research, write and present will serve them well in their lives,” Mueller said.