Legionaire Greta Von Crayton speaks with contestants in the Clayton American Legion Oratorical Contest. Student speakers, from left, are Addison Lessing, Josiah Evans and Brandon Harrell.
CLAYTON -- At a time when many young people are fixated on social media like Twitter, and text messaging that promotes short, broken up thoughts, three Johnston County high school students have proven that the art of giving a long speech, by memory, hasn’t been abandoned entirely.
Three students competed in last week’s oratorical competition held Friday afternoon at Clayton High School. The competition was hosted by Clayton American Legion Posts 518 and 71.
Students had to give a prepared speech on any aspect of the Constitution, then give an impromptu speech on a randomly selected topic. Students are judged based on the content of their remarks and their speaking skills.
Addison Lessing, a junior at West Johnston High School, won first place in the competition.
“I spoke mostly on the American dream,” said Lessing. “I feel for the most part we’ve stayed true to our founding fathers.”
Lessing said he worked with his U.S. History teacher to develop a strategy to memorize the speech. The two of them broke it down into parts. Lessing tried to memorize the specific concepts of the speech, so he could talk about the concepts more easily. “There was no way I was going to remember that speech word for word,” he said.
Students are allowed to look at a copy of their speech while they are in a holding room at the start of the competition. But when they leave the holding room to enter the auditorium, they must be paper-free, and recite what they know from memory.
In his speech, Lessing referenced Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence by emphasizing that Amricans have inalienable rights. He touched on the current debate over gun control legislation by referencing the right to have weapons. He called that an example of staying true to the Jeffersonian ideal.
To practice the 8 to 10-minute speech, Lessing recorded it on his phone and played it back to himself through earphones.
“I consider myself very patriotic,” Lessing said. “I have a lot of pride in what we’ve been through.”
Lessing is the perfect example of the sort of attitude the American Legion hopes to honor through the competition.
“Patriotism is what we’re also endorsing by promoting knowledge of the Constitution and knowing what the history of developing this document was,” said Greta Crayton, who serves on the state oratorical committee for the American Legion. The competition also provides college scholarships to high school students. If a contestant reaches the national level, they have the chance to win $1,500 in scholarship money.
Also competing in the contest were Josiah Evans, of Cleveland High School, who earned second place and Brandon Harrell, of Clayton High, who took third place. Evans and Harrell were both penalized for not speaking long enough in their prepared speech.
The impromptu speech topic randomly chosen for the competition was the Second Amendment, which protects the right of citizens to keep and bear arms. Each student had five minutes to collect their thoughts on the issue before delivering a three to five-minute speech on it. For Harrell, there was an extra challenge because his prepared speech was about the Second Amendment, so he had to quickly develop a different angle to discuss.
Lessing will now advance to the district division held in Selma on January 26. He said his dream would be to attend UNC Chapel Hill and study pre-law, then go into politics, either for the local or federal government. Evans will also advance to the District division.