His passion for encouraging youth to educate themselves on the U.S. Constitution in order to keep democracy alive helped Andrew Steinberg of Newton, Mass., capture The American Legion’s 80th National Oratorical Contest title Sunday in Indianapolis. His winning oration, “The Constitution: A Lasting Legacy,” earned him a first-place finish and an $18,000 college scholarship.
“(The American Legion’s Oratorical Contest) is an amazing program … and I’ve just been incredibly thankful to be a part of something much greater than myself. Not just for The American Legion, but representing my generation, representing a Constitutional responsibility for our nation as well,” said 17-year-old Steinberg.
Steinberg emerged from a competitive field of 52 other high school orators who won their respective American Legion department Oratorical Contest. He was one of three finalists to advance through semifinals and quarterfinals on Saturday to claim a spot in the finals, becoming the first Massachusetts youth in 30 years to win the national Oratorical competition.
Robyn Anzulis of Woodbine, Md., who was sponsored by Post 191 in Mt. Airy, earned a $16,000 scholarship with a second-place finish; and Chad Durante of Follansbee, W. Va., who was sponsored by Post 3 in Moundsville, earned a $14,000 scholarship with a third-place finish.
The inspiration for Steinberg’s speech was from a trend he noticed across generational lines – the disengagement of exercising Constitutional rights, such as voting. This made him question “what would happen if the next generation – my generation – didn’t pick up the mantle of democracy?”
Steinberg presented his prepared oration three times over the course of the two-day competition and each time he wanted his speech to remind his audience to not “give up on us as a generation,” he said. “Each generation needs to carry the baton of Constitutional responsibility and my generation has slacked off, in my opinion. But this competition and seeing all of these other kids has made me realize that it’s not hopeless; I’m more optimistic leaving here because I’ve learned so much and met incredible people.”
In his prepared oration, Steinberg stated that “for nearly 228 years, our Constitution has protected our American way of life. But unless we educate the next generation - my generation - these rights will erode and we could lose the very essence of what makes America, well, America. Freedom. Liberty. And, justice for all. 'We the People' requires all of us. It's our responsibility. The baton is now in our hands. The future of our country depends on it.”
Steinberg said he will do his part in passing the Constitutional baton forward by using his interest in politics and government to spread awareness and to get involved more tangibly.
Steinberg was sponsored by Post 440 for the Oratorical competition and is appreciative of the post members for “believing in me and allowing me the opportunity to both teach what I know but also learn,” he said. “I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity to perform at all levels of this competition. It’s been an amazing experience.”
The high school junior encourages other youth to become informed citizens on the U.S. Constitution in an effort to pass the baton on to the next generation by competing in their local Oratorical Contest.
“This competition is as much of a teaching experience as it is a learning experience. It was hard work; I had to study and prepare (the speeches) and I had some doubts,” Steinberg said. “But I stuck through it, I did it, and the rest is I’m here and I’m proud of my experience here and really thankful as well.”
As the 2017 American Legion Oratorical Contest winner, Steinberg will receive a trip to the organization’s national convention in Reno, Nev., in August.
Since 1938, The American Legion’s Oratorical Contest has awarded more than $3 million in scholarships. Nearly 6,000 youth from across the nation participate in the contest at the post, district and department level to understand the history of America’s laws and to develop a better understanding of the duties, responsibilities, rights and privileges of American citizenship.
The view Steinberg's winning oration, as well as other speeches from the finals, click here.