Ashwath Kumar of Colubmia, Mo., won The American Legion's National Oratorical Contest in 2014. Photo by Lucas Carter/The American Legion

Top three Oratorical Contest finishers earn spot in NSDA tournament

Ashwath Kumar won The American Legion’s National Oratorical Contest, “A Constitutional Speech Contest,” in 2014 for his oration titled “This Great House.” Besides earning an $18,000 college scholarship for his first-place finish, Kumar, of Columbia, Mo., earned an automatic berth into the tournament of the National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA).

Kumar’s opportunity to compete in the NSDA tournament alongside 5,000 of the top orators in the country - and earn further scholarship aid - is thanks to the relationship between the NSDA and the Legion that formed in 2010. Through the relationship, the top three finishers in the Legion’s National Oratorical Contest qualify to enter into the NSDA’s original oratory or United States extemporaneous speaking category.

“Together, The American Legion and the NSDA foster numerous opportunities across the country for students to become engaged citizens, skilled professionals and honorable leaders of our global society,” said Steve Schappaugh, director of community engagement for NSDA. “While the NSDA trains coaches and students, The American Legion inspires these students with the opportunity to apply those skills in its Oratorical Contest. Students in speech and debate become better thinkers and, as a result of the Legion’s Oratorical Contest, advocates for patriotism and honor.”

Kumar competed in the extemporaneous category, and said both the Legion and NSDA’s competitions encourage competitors “to analyze and present a topic in a novel and comprehensible way that forces you as a speaker to think in a completely different way,” said Kumar, who is currently attending the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine. “Nevertheless, competing in The American Legion’s contest provided invaluable experience on speaking and speech crafting.”

The inspiration for Kumar’s winning Oratorical Contest speech came when he looked into his backyard and saw the construction of a new home from its “simple foundation to full structure. I drew a connection between the simple but solid foundation of a house and that of our nation, the U.S. Constitution,” he said. “That analogy became the cornerstone of my speech.”

With the foundation of his prepared oration set, Kumar knew that “perfection in speaking would not set him apart so much as the message,” he said. “I focused on selecting the right historical examples, analogies and mannerisms that would punctuate my unique points to the audience.”

Watch a video of Kumar speaking here.

Kumar also gathered a greater understanding of what expectations were like at the national level by watching online videos of past Oratorical Contest winners. “While I always set out to have my own voice, past videos helped me understand the general setting and structure of the contest in ways that words alone could not,” he said.

The American Legion’s 2017 National Oratorical Contest is April 22-23 in Indianapolis, where 53 high school orators, who will be representing their respective Legion departments, will compete for a top-three finish and $48,000 in scholarships - as well as, for those top three, an opportunity to compete in NSDA’s tournament June 18-23 in Birmingham, Ala. For more information about the NSDA, visit www.speechanddebate.org.