The American Legion Oratorical Contest exists to develop deeper knowledge and appreciation for the U.S. Constitution among high school students. Since 1938, the program has presented participants with an academic speaking challenge that teaches important leadership qualities, the history of our nation’s laws, the ability to think and speak clearly, and an understanding of the duties, responsibilities, rights and privileges of American citizenship. The program has featured numerous politicians and prominent contestants over the years, including former presidential candidate Alan Keyes, national television commentator and talk radio host Lou Dobbs, and Former Vice-President of the United States Mike Pence.
Here in Washington state we award a total of $5,000 in scholarships to the top four contestants. We send our state champion to the National FInals Contest where young orators earn some of the most generous college scholarships available to high school students. Over $203,500 in scholarships can be awarded each year at the National Finals Contest. The overall national contest winner gets a $25,000 scholarship. Second place takes home $22,500, and third gets $20,000. Each state winner who is certified into and participates in the national contest’s first round receives a $2,000 scholarship. Those who advance past the first round receive an additional $2,000 scholarship. The American Legion’s National Organization awards the scholarships, which can be used at any college or university in the United States.
High school students under age 20 are eligible to compete. Homeschool students in the equivalent of grades 9-12 are welcome to participate. Here in Washington we conduct the contest over a single weekend with the contestant briefing on Friday night, and all contests conducted on Saturday. We pay for the hotel for the contestant and chaperone and provide mileage reimbursement to and from the contest site to defray travel expenses.
Contestants are certified at the local Post level as being qualified to compete and the sponsoring Post pays the $150 entry fee for the contestant. We will assist with locating a sponsor upon request. There is no limitation to the number of contestants a single Post may sponsor and certify. At the conclusion of the state contest, the Chairman will certify our Department (state) winner to the national contest, where Department winners compete against each other in two speaking rounds. The contest caps off with a final round that decides the three top finishers. Unless a student is one of the three top finishers at the national contest, all eligible students may return in subsequent years to compete for additional scholarships.
Speaking subjects must be on some aspect of the U.S. Constitution, with some emphasis on the duties and obligations of citizens to our government. Speeches are eight to 10 minutes long; three- to five-minute speeches on an assigned topic also are part of the contest.