One of The American Legion's goals is to have one post for every high school in the United States. Resolution 28, passed during the National Executive Committee's 1997 Fall Meetings, makes this objective a part of the Legion's blueprint for the 21st century.
During my travels I'm often asked the purpose of this goal. Why does The American Legion need a post in every community? Well, an obvious reason is that a local post makes it possible for a high-school student to participate in our Oratorical Contest, thus giving him or her a chance to earn a valuable college scholarship while learning about the U.S. Constitution. The same can be said for American Legion Boys State, which teaches young men how state government works. Take the Legion post out of that community and you take away that opportunity. However, another, lesser-known program also disappears when a post leaves a community with a high school: The American Legion School Award Medal Program.
Officially recognized as a national program in 1926, The American Legion School Award Medal Program originated with posts in Pennsylvania and quickly spread throughout the country. It is designed to emphasize the development of courage, honor, leadership, patriotism, scholarship and service; help develop ideals of Americanism among young people, making them citizens of the highest caliber; and give recognition by awarding American Legion School Award Medals to young men and young women who have demonstrated the highest qualities of citizenship and of true Americanism.
The medal is awarded to the top boy or girl in the graduating classes of elementary schools, junior and senior high schools, and colleges. Posts, districts and departments administer the program, and departments that do the best job receive the Ralph T. O'Neil Education Trophy at the annual American Legion national convention.
In 2006, American Legion posts awarded 28,571 medals across the country. While that number is impressive, I believe we can do better. With more than 14,000 posts, there's no reason our organization shouldn't be awarding twice that number of medals. Every medal handed out represents a young man or woman, a boy or a girl, who already has demonstrated some of the characteristics that The American Legion has respected for nearly 90 years: courage, honor, leadership, patriotism, scholarship, service. These qualities aren't just the foundation of The American Legion; they are the foundation of the principles upon which the United States is built.
The American Legion is an organization devoted to the service of God and country. One of the best ways to perform that service is to take an active interest in developing America's youth as patriotic, freedom- loving citizens. The American Legion always has led others in this endeavor; our School Award Medal Program is one of the best ways to foster future generations of patriotic citizens. It's a value of membership.
February is Americanism Month. If you're not already doing so, please implement a School Award Medal Program at your post. Guidelines are available through the National Americanism Division.