High school junior Emma Noble of Birmingham, Ala., won The American Legion’s 83rd National Oratorical Contest, “A U.S. Constitutional Speech Contest,” and a $25,000 scholarship April 24 in Indianapolis at the Wyndham Indianapolis West hotel.
Her sponsoring Matthew Blount American Legion Post 555 in Pelham believed from the beginning that she would win. Post Commander Jeff Monday “told me, ‘You’re going to go to nationals, you’re going to take this,’” Noble said. “We got to nationals and he’s like, ‘You’re going to place first.’ I wasn’t near as confident as he was. But when I found out (I won), it was a sense of relief that all of this work that I put into this competition has paid off.”
Second-place finish and a $22,500 scholarship was awarded to Ashley Tuell of Johnson City, Tenn., who was sponsored by local American Legion Post 24; and third-place finish and a $20,000 scholarship was awarded to Jackson Boone of Calvert City, Ky., who was sponsored by local American Legion Post 236.
For her winning oration, "The Power of the Executive Order: Because I Said So!", Noble wanted listeners to understand the power that the president has with executive orders and the importance of being an informed voter.
In part, Noble wrote, “When the president of the United States issues an executive order, he has essentially just made a law because he said so.
“George Washington was the first president to issue an executive order. Washington issued a total of eight executive orders during his presidency, including issuing a statement of neutrality about the war in France, and establishing Thanksgiving of that year as a national holiday. Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order from President Lincoln that granted freedom to all slaves in the Confederacy years before the 13th amendment was ratified. He defended this order using his expanded executive powers during war time as commander in chief.
“Executive orders are an extremely valuable tool because they are much faster than passing a law through the legislative branch; however they are not trivial to undo so you must have confidence in the person making them. It is a citizen's responsibility to vote. Not only that, but to vote for someone you trust with the power of executive orders. Because I said so.”
Since Noble performed in theater as a young child, she wanted her speech to be engaging “because sitting and listening to a speech about the Constitution, if it’s not engaging, you’re not going to get anything out of it. (The American Legion oratorical contest) was an opportunity for me to perform in an academic way which I think melded my interests really well.”
She started her speech off with “Because I said so!”, a phrase often heard by children from their parents. The audience laughed and the engagement was set. Noble also kept the audience’s attention by incorporating historical context and modern application for her prepared oration and assigned topic, which was on Amendment 3, “No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”
The law was established in response to the British Quartering Acts when the British Empire sent soldiers to American colonies to live in the homes of locals. Since “Red Coats are not knocking on our doors” as Noble humorously engaged the audience, she gave a current example of when this amendment was called into question which was in 2020 when thousands of National Guardsmen were sent to Washington, D.C., and resided in hotels. Noble said it’s important the speeches delivered by the contestants are “relevant to us because that’s what’s important about the Constitution is how it applies to us today. So I think about the topic and what sort of actual application of this there is. How do we experience this? And I think that tends to be a little more engaging.”
Noble emerged in the National Oratorical Contest from a competitive field of 49 other high school orators who won their respective American Legion department Oratorical Contest. Throughout the weekend's competition, the contestants presented a rehearsed eight- to 10-minute oration on an aspect of the Constitution in front of judges, as well as a three- to five-minute speech on an assigned topic discourse — a phase of the Constitution selected from its Articles and Sections.
Noble spent a week last fall writing five speeches that included her prepared oration and the assigned topics. The speeches are memorized as the contestants are now allowed to use notes, a podium or a sound system during the post, district, department and national rounds of The American Legion’s contest.
“I think people tend to get a little intimidated about having a 10-minute speech that has to be completely memorized, about the Constitution. My advice would be to just try it,” Noble said. “For me I was scared my first year (competing), but when I got into it I realized how I can make these connections personal to me. When it is something you’ve written and spent so much time writing and editing and reading over and over again, the memorization is not nearly as daunting because these are your words. And if it’s something you’re really passionate about, you can talk about it and you won’t have much of a problem with the memorization.
“This competition sort of gave me an excuse to start (understanding the Constitution) and I realized how much there is there that’s really fascinating.”
Noble is thankful to her sponsoring American Legion Post 555 for making her more comfortable giving live speeches.
“I would like to thank those individuals so much; they have been so supportive,” she said. “I had people attend every round of my competition. I had people watch me do the speech four and five times. They would invite me to post meetings so I could practice giving it to an audience. I’m just so appreciative of all those people and opportunities that have come with being associated with them.”
Noble will be invited to attend the 103rd National Convention in Milwaukee in late August for a special recognition.