The American Legion Oratorical Contest is dedicated to cultivating a profound understanding and appreciation of the U.S. Constitution among high school students. This educational initiative, dating back to 1938, offers participants a unique academic speaking challenge. It not only imparts essential leadership skills but also delves into the historical evolution of our nation’s laws. Moreover, it equips students with the ability to articulate their thoughts coherently while fostering a profound comprehension of the responsibilities, rights, and privileges inherent in American citizenship.
Over the years, this program has attracted noteworthy figures, including former presidential candidate Alan Keyes, nationally recognized television commentator and talk radio host Lou Dobbs, and Former Vice-President of the United States Mike Pence.
Here in Washington state, we’re dedicated to supporting the educational pursuits of high school students, offering a total of $5,000 in scholarships to our top four contestants. Our state champion advances to the National Finals Contest, where young orators have the opportunity to secure some of the most generous college scholarships available to high school students. Each year, an impressive $203,500 in scholarships can be awarded at the National Finals Contest, with the overall national contest winner receiving a substantial $25,000 scholarship. Second place garners $22,500, and third place takes home $20,000. Furthermore, every state winner who qualifies for and participates in the national contest’s first round earns a $2,000 scholarship. Those who progress beyond the first round receive an additional $2,000 scholarship. These scholarships, awarded by The American Legion’s National Organization, are applicable at any college or university in the United States.
High school students under the age of 20 are eligible to compete, and we extend a warm welcome to homeschool students in the equivalent of grades 9-12 to participate as well. In Washington, we conduct the contest over a single weekend, beginning with contestant briefings on Friday night, followed by all contests on Saturday. To ease travel expenses, we cover the hotel stay for the contestant and chaperone and provide mileage reimbursement to and from the contest site.
Contestants are certified at the local Post level as qualified competitors, with the sponsoring Post covering the $150 entry fee for each contestant. We are more than willing to assist in finding a sponsor upon request. There is no limit to the number of contestants a single Post may sponsor and certify. Following the state contest, our Chairman certifies our Department (state) winner to the national contest, where Department winners engage in two speaking rounds, culminating in a final round that determines the top three finishers. Unless a student secures a top-three position at the national contest, all eligible students are encouraged to return in subsequent years to compete for additional scholarships.
Speeches must revolve around some aspect of the U.S. Constitution, with an emphasis on the duties and obligations of citizens to our government. Speeches should range from eight to 10 minutes in length, with an additional three- to five-minute speech on a randomly drawn assigned topic as part of the contest.