Since 1938, The American Legion has conducted its national Oratorical speech contest as a way for high school students across the country to demonstrate their understanding of the Constitution of the United States and to win valuable scholarship money. The goal is that in the process, these students will gain a deeper appreciation for the document that formed the foundation of this great country, and have the ability to effectively stand up for it.
We are at a moment as a nation when controversy and dispute swirl around the Constitution, from the interpretation of the Second Amendment, to questions on when states can take their own path versus federal mandates. It is now more vital than ever that our young people, the next generation of American citizens, understand and appreciate what that citizenship means, and what stands behind it.
American Legion Post 182 in New Palestine, Ind., is doing its part to keep the Constitution on the minds of its young people. Bill McCoy, a member of Post 182, was attending an event in Florida that celebrated the United States and its veterans when he saw a set of bronze replica plaques showing the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The plaques were there through the efforts of the American Constitution Spirit Foundation (ACSF), which seeks to place them in schools throughout the country as part of its National Constitution Plaque Initiative. The plaques have been placed in schools in Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania – and now Indiana.
McCoy's first thought was how wonderful the plaques would look placed in New Palestine schools. His second was, "How do we make this happen?" When he got home, he contacted ACSF and received supporting materials, which he took to the New Palestine Beautification Committee. After garnering the committee's support, he took his idea to Post 182, which approved the purchase of the five-plaque set. The last piece to fall into place was the go-ahead from the local school corporation to place the plaques on the walls of New Palestine High School (NPHS). The cost to Post 182 was about $8,500.
After a tour of other local schools and churches, the plaques are now in their new home at NPHS. Back in November, a dedication ceremony was held at the high school right before Veterans Day. Present were numerous members of the post, as well as state officials, the commander of the Department of Indiana, and even local USS Indianapolis survivor James E. O'Donnell – who died two months later at 92. O'Donnell's presence must have put everyone there in mind of those who certainly understood, and defended, the Constitution once upon a time. McCoy's hope is that NPHS students can do the same if they have to.