Indiana, Kentucky, Washington earn top three spot in National Oratorical Finals
David Daniel of Owensboro, Ky., left, Aubrey Moore of Renton, Wash., and Knox Boyd of Lafayette, Ind. Photo by Jennifer Blohm/The American Legion

Indiana, Kentucky, Washington earn top three spot in National Oratorical Finals

The top three high school orators of The American Legion’s 85th National Oratorical Contest have been named after advancing through two rounds of competition among 49 other students who spoke on the U.S. Constitution Saturday, May 18, on the historic campus of Hillsdale College in Michigan. David Daniel of Owensboro, Ky., Knox Boyd of Lafayette, Ind., and Aubrey Moore of Renton, Wash., will compete in the National Oratorical Finals for a chance to win first place and a $25,000 scholarship. Second and third place will earn $22,500 and $20,000 respectively.

Watch the finals live Sunday, May 19, at 10 a.m. Eastern on The American Legion YouTube channel.   

Daniel, a high school senior, heard about the oratorical contest last year during his time at American Legion Boys Nation where he was elected president. He became distracted filling out college applications that he forgot about the contest until Legionnaires (from Post 9) called him and said, “’Hey, here’s this amazing opportunity that can be just as transformative as Boys State, Boys Nation was for you.’ This has been an amazing experience because it’s put me in close contact with a lot of Legionnaires,” Daniel said. “You go to an actual post to compete so being in an American Legion post, I didn’t grow up in The American Legion or with veterans in my family, so being within that culture through this program has been amazing.”

He is honored to be in the top three and speaking on a topic he cares about – mental health.

“I don’t think there’s anything more fulfilling than succeeding with something that you genuinely care about,” he said, who learned about The American Legion’s Be the One mission to save the lives of veterans from suicide during his time at Boys Nation. “I have a Be the One coin on me right now in my wallet.”   

Daniel’s prepared oration, “Running for Freedom,” follows the story of Sgt. Earl Granville who lost his twin brother to suicide following their military service. Granville runs alongside other military servicemembers of the Achilles Freedom Team who carry cinderblock on their back and hand it to each other while running as a reminder that “no one has to carry this heavy mental burden alone. It’s a message for the mental health of veterans and overall, what the Constitution stands for in civil unity,” he said.

Daniel has always been interested in the Constitution because of his passion for politics, yet the Legion’s oratorical competition has educated him more on the document. “This is the best program to get an in-depth view of amendments in the Constitution,” he said. “Even before I started preparing for this competition, if you were to ask me to tell you the 25th Amendment Section III, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you, much less most people.”

As Daniel takes the finals stage tomorrow, he looks forward to “emotionally connecting with the audience because I don’t want it to feel like I’m being graded, I don’t want it to feel like I’m rehearsing a speech. I want it to feel like I’m talking about something that matters and that hopefully the people who hear my speech feel more informed or more persuaded to do something that’s beneficial to our veterans or our society as a whole. The mindset that I went into preparing for this was, ‘what kind of speech would I give if this wasn’t a competition?’ And when you bring upon that kind of mindset you start focusing not on how to win a competition but what matters to you. If you have 10 minutes to talk about anything, what would you want to talk about and how would you want to make the people in the audience feel? I feel that’s important not only for the competition, but the way you carry yourself in everyday life.”

Boyd, a senior in high school, is familiar with the Legion’s oratorical contest. His father, Joshua, won the National Oratorical Finals in 1990, and his older sister competed a few years ago. “I sat through all of her speeches, and the Legion post members were like, ‘You’re going to do this when you’re in high school, right?’ I was like sure!” This is Boyd’s fourth time competing in the oratorical contest, but his first to win state and advance to the national level.  

“I didn’t think I was going to make it this far so I’m so, so excited,” he said. While walking up to the board that listed the top three state finalists, “I said, ‘Mom, there’s only going to be three names on there.’ Seeing Indiana up there was overwhelming. This has been something that I’ve put so much work into over the last few years …. and achieving it tells me I can have success in other things. I want to be a screenwriter and that’s terrifying for me because it’s really hard to succeed in that situation. But this kind of gives me the confidence that I’ll be able to take with me for the rest of my life.”

His focus on preparation is what has made a difference for Boyd winning state.

“It’s all preparation,” he said. “It took me a long time to learn myself and learn what I need to do to be adequately prepared, and what prepared looks like for me. Also, I’ve been involved in acting this whole time and that’s a thing that feeds into this a lot. So everything I’ve learned on the stage, I’ve put into this. That’s helped me a ton.”

Boyd’s prepared oration, “Out of Many, One,” addresses “how the unity that’s established in the Constitution is the foundation of both our culture and the freedoms that we are able to enjoy in the United States,” he said. Boyd noticed that union was discussed a lot in the document, and he found several great stories about it. “I love to have a good story; that’s my favorite thing to do in a speech. And with this, I want my audience to understand the gravity of how important union is and how important it is to believe in the idea that the United States doesn’t exist without having people who disagree on things come together and be part of the union. Because everyone is an active participant in the United States. And it’s important for everyone to understand that responsibility.”

Public speaking is a skill that Boyd believes every youth should have, and while the Legion’s oratorical contest is a great avenue for that skillset, it also provides an opportunity for high school students to become educated on the Constitution. “The most important thing I’ll say is that it doesn’t just get you to think about what’s in the Constitution and the facts, but it gets you to think about why everything is in the Constitution and what that means. Because that’s what you have to explain.”

This is the first time Moore, a homeschool sophomore, has competed in the Legion’s oratorical contest. She got involved in the competition because she enjoys public speaking, and it gave her an opportunity to study the U.S. Constitution in more depth, something she didn’t think she would be interested in.

“Walking through this competition, learning all these new things, I’ve definitely had a greater appreciation for what the Founding Fathers did,” she said. “It’s important for high schoolers to be able to understand the Constitution because a lot of people today don’t really understand what’s going on in the American government, and they don’t understand how society is operating. This competition, especially, just illustrates to other people that even though some kids are in high school we are still capable of doing great things and understanding (the Constitution).”

With writing the prepared oration on an aspect of the Constitution, Moore saw there were many paths to take. She wrote her prepared oration, “Why Freedom of Speech is in Danger,” on the first amendment after hearing peers discussing what should and should not be said. In her research, she found lots of articles of how hate speech should be banned in the United States. “I thought this is an issue of extreme censorship and that’s what prompted me to write my speech,” she said. “In America, we have become so tolerant that we think it’s ok to sensor all different kinds of speech and because of that tolerance, the push for tolerance, the right to freedom of speech is slowly going away in our society. What I want people to take away from my speech is that the foundational values that the Founding Fathers set in place and the amendments still matter in a society that has changed. Ultimately, we have to support people’s right to speak.”

Being around like-minded students who share a passion for public speaking has been fun for Moore.  “I think speech and debate, public speaking, is my thing. Everybody has a thing … somebody’s sports, somebody’s chess, somebody’s academics. So it’s been fun to meet all these other kids that speech and debate, public speaking, is their thing too.”

Moore is looking forward to representing the Department of Washington in the finals tomorrow and is thankful for the opportunity The American Legion has given her with the competition.

“Everyone from The American Legion has been overwhelming kind and nice,” she said. “It’s been nice to be surrounded in a community of people who are very like-minded in the way that they care about America today and what it’s going to be tomorrow and the future. The American Legion has taught me that there are lots of good people out there that want to take care of the youth of our country and raise us up to be future leaders.”