Agnes Rieger of Kansas City, Mo., was crowned the 2013 champion of The American Legion's 76th High School Oratorical Scholarship Program, "A Constitutional Speech Contest," Sunday morning in Indianapolis. Rieger's winning oration, "Let's Talk About Pennsylvania ," earned her first place and an $18,000 scholarship. She was sponsored by Legion Post 95.
"I want to thank Post 95 for sponsoring me from the very beginning," Rieger said. "Everyone in the Legion from the state of Missouri is the most supportive audience you ever even imagine."
Second place went to Elizabeth Scannell of Goose Creek, S.C., who was sponsored by Legion Post 166, and earned a $16,000 scholarship for her oration, "The Constitution: An American Position Description ." And third place was awarded to Rachel Schartz of Humboldt, S.D., who was sponsored by Legion Post 62 and earned a $14,000 scholarship for her oration, "Sewing Freedom ."
The finalists individually presented their rehearsed eight- to 10-minute oration in front of a large audience filled with family, Legionnaires, the other 50 Oratorical candidates, former National Oratorical champions and a panel of six judges.
Rieger, a 2012 Missouri Girls State alum, had never spoken on the U.S. Constitution before entering the Legion's Oratorical Contest. "I know about our Constitution through my government class, and I always respected it (the Constitution), but I never had such a keen appreciation of what we have, until this competition," she said. "This competition has helped me raise awareness (about the Constitution) and speak to my peers about what I'm doing."
Her oration title was inspired from a history class project in which she and her fellow peers were asked to discuss the Constitution and their obligations as citizens. Instead, "we spoke about how Pennsylvania was misspelled" in the nation's founding document; it is spelled with one "n." This lack of appreciation and knowledge on the Constitution was not only the inspiration for Rieger's oration, but also the reason for her encouraging American's nationwide to study the Constitution because if American's don't now the Constitution, "we leave our government in the hands of others, and we exclude ourselves from developing the future of our great nation," she said.
Preceding the orations, the three finalists presented a three- to five-minute speech on an assigned topic discourse – a phase of the Constitution selected from Articles and Sections. The assigned topic for the championship finals was drawn by American Legion National Commander James E. Koutz and was made known to the audience and each finalist five minutes prior to the time of delivery.
The assigned topic chosen was Article 2, Section 1, Paragraph 5: "No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of president; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years, and been fourteen years a resident within the United States."
Since its inception in 1937, The American Legion National Oratorical Contest has awarded more than $3 million in scholarships. This year, all 53 contestants who participated in the quarterfinals received a $1,500 scholarship, while the nine contestants who advanced to semifinals received an additional $1,500.
Joseph Caouette, chairman of the Legion's National Americanism Commission, provided remarks of encouragement to the candidates, emphasizing that "you are all champions. You did not lose here. Remember that."