Each year, the American Legion Kiltonic Post 72 hosts a local contest that provides students with a chance at winning $20,000 toward a college tuition. All they have to do is conquer one of the world’s biggest fears—public speaking, according to a survey conducted by The Washington Post in 2014.
The national American Legion Oratorical Contest invites high school students to write, memorize and present competitive speeches based on the U.S. Constitution. The contest begins at the local level at individual high schools. Winners move on to the district contest, then state, then national.
On Jan. 29, five Southington High School students stepped up to the challenge: Diane Pillsbury, Matthew Luponio, Alexandra Carabetta, Jada Vercosa-Bennett and Tia Guay. Pillsbury had prepared for the contest but got sick the night of the contest, and did not compete.
Luponio came in first place and continued on to the district level contest in Hartford on Jan. 30. Guay came in second at the local level, Carabetta came in third, and Vercosa-Bennet came in fourth. Luponio faced two other young men at the district contest and came out victorious, sending him to represent Southington in the state-wide contest in March.
“The students must prepare a 10-minute speech based on the Constitution,” said Post 72 member Steve Pintarich. “There’s no notes allowed. It’s just them and the podium.”
The students present their speeches to three judges. This year, board of education member Missy Cipriano, assistant superintendent of schools Steve Madancy, and the high school resource officer judged the contest.
Following the 10-minute speech, there was a second speech that must be done on a whim. Pintarich explained that the national American Legion selects four articles of the Constitution for the second speech. A member of the audience must pick one of those articles from a hat, and the students then have a short amount of time to prepare a second speech based on the article that was selected.
This year, the 27th amendment was selected. The 27th amendment prohibits any law that increases or decreases the salary of members of Congress from taking effect until the start of the next set of terms of office for representatives.
“It was one of the original articles of the Constitution, but it was dropped,” said Pintarich. “Back in the 1990s, a young man in college wrote an essay to change that. It took several years, but he fought for it and it was eventually added back into the Constitution.”
Out of hundreds of students at Southington High School, just five stepped up to the challenge.
“The Oratorical Contest pushes students to do something they are not comfortable doing,” said Pintarich. “It teaches them how to conduct research, organize a speech, and present an opinion.”
Judge Cipriano said she was grateful for the opportunity to be a spectator to the event.
“I wish every kid had just a little bit of this experience,” she said. “Each speech was unique, and it gave them a chance to discover something new, research it, come to understand it, and share their own perception.”
She said public speaking is nerve-wracking “no matter who you are.”
“Part of our vision of a graduate is to be able to communicate what you’ve learned, and these students achieved that,” said Cipriano. “Thank you to the American Legion for providing students with this opportunity.”
High schools around the country hosted local Oratorical Contests. All contestants are presented with the same rules and the same four articles of the Constitution. Following the district level contest is the state contest, which will take place in March. The national contest will take place in April.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at News@SouthingtonObserver.com.