For the second year in a row, a youth from Missouri claimed the championship title for The American Legion's National High School Oratorical Program: "A Constitutional Speech Contest."
On April 6 at the Wyndham Indianapolis West Hotel, Ashwath Kumar of Columbia, Mo., won the Legion's 77th National Oratorical Contest and an $18,000 college scholarship for his winning oration titled, "This Great House." American Legion Post 202 sponsored Kumar, a senior at David H. Hickman High School.
"The biggest goal I had for the (American Legion's) National (Oratorical) Contest was to speak from the heart and not speak from the page," Kumar said. "When I'm talking to a large audience, the emotions, you don't script them, they just come."
Second place and a $16,000 college scholarship was awarded to high school senior Brandon Posner of Doylestown, Penn., for his oration titled, "A Document of Unification." Legion Post 210 sponsored Posner.
"There are two things that allow us to live such an amazing lifestyle in this country, the first is the Constitution, which guarantees our freedom, and the second is the veterans who defend the Constitution and defend our country," Posner said. "It's such an honor to be a part of the (Legion's National Oratorical) scholarship program that combines both. I'm thrilled to be here; never expected to make it this far. Thanks so much to The American Legion for such an incredible opportunity."
Third place and a $14,000 college scholarship was awarded to high school senior Ellen Densmore of Denver, for her oration titled, "The Land of the Free." Legion Post 23 in Aurora, Colo., sponsored Densmore.
It took about two hours for Kumar to write his winning prepared oration, which derived from the analogy of the Constitution being compared to a house and the unmoving foundation it rests on during conflict. In his speech, Kumar refereed to the strong foundation when he said, "Conflict is the fuel of change, and change is the engine of the Constitution. Conflict led to the formation of this country, conflict drives us every year to select representatives in government, and conflict underlies every policy, every court case, every decision that determines the course of our future. The right amount of tension holds together the foundation of our great house.
As citizens of the United States, as the proud owners and builders of this great house, it is our responsibility to protect and maintain the Constitution: for ourselves, for each other and for all of posterity."
The three finalists individually presented their prepared oration and the randomly assigned topic on Amendment 21 of the U.S. Constitution in front of a large audience without help of note cards, a podium or a microphone. Audience members included family, friends, Legionnaires, American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger, Sons of The American Legion National Commander Joseph Gladden and a panel of six judges.
The judges were Lt. Col. Lonny MacDonald, an Iraq War veteran and the professor of military science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis; Jerry Kinder, an instructor of advanced placement U.S. history at Johnston (Iowa) High School; Judge Tanya Walton-Pratt, judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana; Cherian Koshy, the development director and assistant tournament director for the National Speech & Debate Association in Ripon, Wis.; Dr. Daniel McClure, the national chaplain for The American Legion; and Rep. Jeramey Anderson, D-Miss., who became the youngest person at the age of 22 elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives.
For Kumar, who started the weekend out as one of 53 contestants and advanced through three rounds of intense competition to become crowned the 2014 Oratorical champion, he "feels very fortunate to have the opportunity to give my speech in front of an elite audience," Kumar said. "For the effort I put it, I did my speech justice."