Indiana youth wins National Oratorical Contest

Haley Bock of Indianapolis hadn’t checked her phone following The American Legion’s 84th National High School Oratorical Contest finals Sunday morning. But she knows the “family chat group is probably blowing up right now” as she won the national contest and a $25,000 scholarship.

When Bock heard her name called on stage as the national champion, she felt “an incredible amount of gratitude. I kind of got teary-eyed up there. I felt very thankful for the competitors who competed with me, just that they were showing up and I got to meet them and spend that time with them. And for The American Legion in making this opportunity possible and for the veterans who have sacrificed and who have listened to me and who enjoy listening to me. And just grateful to God. It was a humbling moment.”

Second-place finish and a $22,500 scholarship was awarded to Ian Chung of Vestal, N.Y., and third-place finish and a $20,000 scholarship was awarded to Emma Johnson of Powell, Wyo.

Bock, a homeschool senior, has committed to Patrick Henry College in Virginia this fall where the scholarship earned for her first-place finish will help ease the financial burden, she said. This “is another reason I’m so grateful to The American Legion, that they’re willing to give what they have, what they have been blessed with by this country to other people and try to lift them up as well.”

For her winning oration, “The Black Hole of American Democracy: American Territories are Where Voting Rights Vanish,” Bock speaks on the over four million U.S. citizens in the American territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands who are denied their right to vote because of the Insular Cases. As she wrote, “because of the Insular Cases, citizens in the territories exist in what a dissenting justice called ‘the disembodied shade’ of ‘limbo’ status. Existing, but not heard from. Present but not represented. Four million Americans all live in an alternate dimension of disenfranchisement.”

With her prepared oration, Bock said she “wanted to encourage young people my age and other Americans, and veterans in The American Legion to investigate issues like that and to try to use their voice to speak for others who don’t maybe have the platform that they do.”

Speaking before an audience isn’t new to Bock who also participates in other speech and debate leagues. However, she noted to compete in the Legion’s oratorical contest that “you don’t have to compete in a speech and debate league to harness your speaking skills. It comes down to being in my family room with my mom every Saturday and working for hours, going over the speeches again and again. If you’re willing to make that time commitment, you’ll be strengthening your skills and ultimately getting the benefits of the oratorical contest.”

The oratorical contest has been a family American Legion participation program among Bock and two of her brothers. It’s because of what it has taught the siblings.

“It has taught me so much, especially about veterans in my state and in the country,” Bock said. “I have veterans in my family but to hear their stories and just seeing how much they care about me simply because of the country I was born into because the title of being an American, it’s a really bonding thing for these veterans because of the call to duty they have taken on themselves to defined us. It has also given me skills and knowledge that are unmatched by any other form of education I have gone through and just a platform where they listen and respect what I’m saying, and really want to learn from me.”

Bock emerged in the National Oratorical Contest, held in Indianapolis at the Wyndham Indianapolis West Hotel, from a competitive field of 49 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. 

The assigned topic for the finals was Amendment XVI: The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration. Bock said she was happy to present on this because “I felt like my first presentation I was really loud, and I might have come across a little aggressive so I was really glad I could soften up for the second speech.” When creating the assigned topic, Bock’s advice to future oratorical contestants is to listen to what your peers are talking about, read through the Constitution and Federalists papers and ask questions in your history classes – “Why is that law this way? Or how did our country become this way? I think that will spark interest and maybe lead to a path for your presentation.”

As the national oratorical champion, Bock is invited to attend the 104th National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., in late August for a special recognition.

Bock is grateful to American Legion Post 3 for sponsoring her to compete in the oratorical contest. “Thank you so much. Thank you for your sacrifice in years past and thank you for your sacrifice you’re making every year to help these students and to help myself,” Bock said. “Thank you to my post and my district specifically for being that family and that support. Thank you to the whole American Legion. Thank you for creating this opportunity.”