High School Students Speak on the Constitution at State Contest

Senior Mahee Haswani (Oak Ridge High School) accepts the first place award.
Photo: Fred Shacklett, District 19 Historian

At the Sunday morning Palisades Farmers Market, an enthusiastic young dad with a kid on his shoulders went up to the Democratic table and told the women. “I’m voting for Biden because he supports abortion.”

Regardless of how people feel about abortion, it was obvious that this man was clueless about how the U.S. Constitution works. He appeared to have no idea about how the founders framed the document with a balance of power between the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

Another basic concept of the constitution is federalism, which means the states and federal government each have exclusive powers. The Tenth Amendment provides that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The contrast between this uninformed resident and five high school students who participated at the oratorical contest Sunday afternoon at the Palisades Ronald Reagan American Legion Post 283 was jarring.

Annually, all high school students are invited to participate in the The American Legion Oratorical Contest, which has been in existence since 1938.

Students must write an eight-to-10-minute speech on an aspect of the U.S. Constitution, with some emphasis on the duties and obligations of citizens to the government.

The students must memorize the speech and present it without note cards or other aids. They are timed on the presentation, and there are penalties if the speech is less than eight or longer than 10 minutes.

Judges are tasked with listening to the historical examples and quotes students use and see if those examples support the topic of their speech.

And it isn’t enough to have great content, contestants are also judged on presentation, speaking style and appearance.

After their initial speech, contestants must also speak three to five minutes on one of four amendments. This year, copies of Amendment II, Amendment XXIII, Amendment XXV, Section 3 and Amendment V were placed in a sealed envelope. One amendment was chosen at random five minutes before the contestants was required to speak on the chosen amendment.

Although they have to be prepared to speak on whatever is drawn, at this contest, the five spoke on Amendment XXIII.

These contestants had won locally at different posts in California, made it through the district contests and now were vying to be top in the department (state) at the contest held at American Legion Post 283.

Each contestant had a unique style and, in their speeches, chose different parts of this country’s history to emphasize the importance of the constitution and the role it plays.

In judging, points were awarded in different categories. The contestants were only known by a number, no names were given.

The judges then ranked the contestants and handed in scoring sheets. There was no collaboration among the judges. Waiting for the final tallies and who would emerge as the state champion was nerve-wracking not only for candidates, but judges as well.

One judge, while waiting for the results, said he was a lawyer and felt like he was back in law school listening to a class on the constitution – that the students were that knowledgeable.

The candidates were all smiles as they waited for the results of the contest.

When the results were announced, first place went to senior Mahee Haswani (Oak Ridge High School), who’s speech was titled “A Piece of Paper.” She received a $1,200 prize.

Taking second and $1,000 was junior Ahsan Suhail (Clovis North High School), with his speech titled “Look on the Works.”

Third through fifth place each received $700.

Third place was senior Samson Rakhshani (Edison High School), whose topic was “Truth Found in Our Constitution.”

Fourth went to sophomore Ricardo Torres (Loyola High School), who spoke on “Don’t Become Silent about Things that Matter.” He had won the initial Post 283 contest before moving onto the district and then competing in this contest.

Fifth was freshman Maya Panchal (Los Altos High School), whose topic was “Responsibilities, Rights and Civic Duties of a U.S. Citizen.”

By taking first, Haswan qualified for the national finals contest which will be held at Hillsdale College, in Hillsdale, Michigan, on May 17.

At the national contest, the winner will receive a $25,000 scholarship. Second place takes home $22,500, and third gets $20,000. Each department (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 click here.



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One Response to High School Students Speak on the Constitution at State Contest

  1. Jim McCashin II says:

    Thanks for a very nice story about an uplifting event. Nice to see such interest in a youthful group.

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