In 2007, Co'Relous Bryant won The American Legion's National High School Oratorical Championship with his winning oration, "The Power of the People." In winning, Bryant earned an $19,500 in scholarships, which he put toward attending New York University.
But money wasn't the only payoff for Bryant. His speech was uploaded onto the Internet, and when he sent it to NYU, the school expressed an interest in having Bryant participate in its mock trial program as a freshman.
Now a junior at NYU, Bryant still competes in mock trial and plans to go on to law school. He recently spoke with The American Legion about his college experience and how participating in the Legion's Oratorical program helped shape his future.
The American Legion: What is the NYU mock trial team?Co'Relous Bryant: It's an undergraduate team, a club really, that puts on a full criminal trial or full civil trial. It's governed by this entity called AMTA, which is the American Mock Trial Association, and you work with law professors and law students who train you how to put on a trial: cross examination, legal research. And then you go to a tournament and, say, Harvard's undergraduate team is there ... And it would be our prosecution team against their defense team.
Q: How often are you going out with the team competing against other universities?A: It's pretty frequent once the season starts. There are anywhere from four to five invitationals a semester, so it's almost every other week.
Q: How long have you participated in this program?A: Since my first year. I'm actually on the "A" team, which is the top-tiered team.
Q: How did being in the Oratorical program prepare you for this?A: The experience at the Oratoricals actually fed right into mock trial because for my audition I could send them the link to my speech. They actually called me and were like, "Oh my gosh, this guy loves public speaking. (He's) pretty good at it." That kind of got me into the program.
Q: Was law school a goal early on in high school, or was it something that came along later?A: Actually, early in high school, as a freshman, I was involved in this program called Teen Court, which is pre-trial diversionary program for first-time delinquents. Students who stole a candy bar, instead of giving them a criminal record, they would come to our program to do community service and sort of divert them from the system. I just fell in love with that idea. So it's been part of where I thought my career would go for awhile.
Q: How vital was the Oratorical program - not just going through it, but winning it - to where you are right now?A: It really was meaningful in many ways. One, obviously, was financially. Two (was) to have this history of competitive public speaking. Most people I know hate public speaking. For someone to say they're not bad at it is one thing, but to have this history, this proof that you are actually good at it ... and to be a vetted public speaker, that's what the Legion has given to me.
Q: The experience has helped you in other ways too, hasn't it?A: I taught public speaking for a company called Lead America, and a good way to prove to them I was qualified was showing them the speech and explaining to them the rigor of the Oratorical competition.
Q: The next step is law school. What is the long-term goal?A: I have a heart for state public service. I was born in Perry, Fla., a small, rural little town, and I see the hardship at that place. I am fortunate enough to have a full ride (scholarship) to New York University, so I am kind of living two different lifestyles. I can use what NYU has taught me and go back to Perry or cities like Perry to make an actual change and to see the change. I think federal politics become too much about politics. But at the state level, a governor can actually implement a policy and literally see how it's affecting his community. So after law school, and after a career that's hopefully lucrative - it takes money to campaign - I'll ideally move back to Florida and seek gubernatorial office or some other state office.