At 17 years old, Carlissa Frederich entered The American Legion’s Oratorical Contest – her first ever speech contest – as a way to learn more about the founding of America and to express gratitude for her freedoms. Frederich’s desire to learn about and understand the U.S. Constitution aided in her writing a speech, “Limited Government: Our Right and Responsibility,” which helped earn her a first-place finish and an $18,000 scholarship in The American Legion’s 81st annual National Oratorical Contest: “A U.S. Constitutional Speech Contest,” on Sunday in Indianapolis.
“I’m just blown away right now. I still can’t believe it,” said Frederich of Paducah, Ky., about her win. Sponsored by American Legion Post 73 in Murray, she is only the second contestant from Kentucky to win the National Oratorical Contest in its 81-year history. And Frederich believes she made it from the post-level competition to the national level thanks to her “incredible support system with my family, my community and my (Legion) post … I’m just incredibly grateful.”
Frederich emerged from a competitive field of 52 other high school orators who won their respective American Legion department Oratorical Contest. She was one of three finalists to advance through semifinals on Saturday to stand on a stage at the Wyndham Hotel for the finals competition in front of an audience of Legion Family members, family and friends, and five judges. The judges included two American Legion program alumni – Alan Keyes, a 1996 presidential candidate who in 1967 won the Legion’s National Oratorical Contest and was elected as president of Boys Nation; and Rachel Forbes, a 1996 recipient of the American Legion Samsung Scholarship.
Once results were finalized, National Commander Denise H. Rohan and Americanism Commission Chairman Richard Anderson presented the awards to the three orators. Second-place finish and a $16,000 scholarship was awarded to Emily Parker of Lino Lakes, Minn., who was sponsored by Post 566; and third-place finish and a $14,000 scholarship was awarded to Nathan York of National City, Calif., who was sponsored by Post 255.
Frederich presented her prepared oration three times over the course of the two-day competition with a message each time – “that the founders designed a system of limited government. They gave us that right and it is our responsibility to preserve that given gift and preserve limited government,” she said. “(The U.S. Constitution) is the foundation of our way of life, truly. The American experiment worked because of limited government and to live in America we should understand the principles of the Constitution and the reasons we have the liberties that we do. And in order to preserve these we must understand.”
Frederich’s speech focused on the Constitution’s founding six principles (federalism, tripartite system, checks and balances, popular sovereignty, republicanism, and liberty through the Bill of Rights) and related them to a wall of a dam – “a bulwark preventing destructive forces from being unleashed. However, the greatest fortification is we the people. Without Americans who perpetuate the principles of this document, it remains just that – a piece of parchment.”
Frederich emphasized the lack of Constitutional knowledge in our country, stating from a poll that only one in four Americans could name all three branches of government. “Knowledge allows citizens to share ideas and become part of the political process, holding leaders accountable to serve the people.” Frederich said her participation in The American Legion’s Oratorical Contest has “made me much more politically active and understanding of current issues .. and made me desire to be in the political realm. Not necessarily as a politician but as an active member of the community who has a voice and can make that heard.”
Frederich, who will be attending Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, this fall, encourages other high school orators to participate in The American Legion’s Oratorical Contest.
“You definitely step out of your comfort zone but what you gain is so worth it. Not only is it really an incredible experience as far as learning and to memorize a speech and delivering it to people … it is an incredible opportunity to learn about our country and our founding principles and the importance of the Constitution.
Frederich spent months memorizing and rehearsing her prepared oration and after each win from the post level to the department, she would tweak it. “I had to find a drive and perseverance in myself to really write (the speeches) and memorize them and perform them,” she said. That ambition of succeeding came from The American Legion’s Oratorical Contest encouraging “youth of America to recognize what we’ve been given and to try to become leaders and preserve the Constitution.”
Frederich will be an honored guest alongside other American Legion youth champions at the National Convention in Minneapolis 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. For more information, visit www.legion.org/oratorical.