Three Johnston County students stood on the stage at Clayton High School a couple weeks ago and talked to the small crowd in the seats about the Constitution.
They were taking part in the American Legion’s Oratorical Contest, which may seem like just another opportunity for students to compete for prizes or scholarships.
But it’s much more than that.
Those students clearly spent a lot of time in research, learning about the U.S. Constitution, which is something far too few of us do.
Arguably the single most important document in our national makeup, the Constitution often gets little more than a cursory glance in our classrooms and, for most of us, what we learn is the most perfunctory notions about how the document was created and not how it impacts our daily lives.
Of course, in today’s world, we see very clearly how the Constitution plays a role on a daily basis as the gun control debate rages on following the shootings in Newtown, Conn.
The students who took part in the recent speech competition likely understand both sides of that argument better than most of us.
But the competition also offers another intrinsic benefit. One of the most terrifying moments of any students’ life is that moment when they are required to stand before the class and recite Romeo or Juliet’s soliloquy or present an oral book report.
Public speaking, though, is a vital skill for everyone. Though we may not all stand up in front of crowds and deliver a forceful oratory, there comes a time for each of us, when we must convince someone to do something we want them to do. Strong speaking skills make that a much easier task. Sound speaking skills grow our self-confidence and they give us the opportunity to make sure our voices are heard, especially when the debate is an important one.
The American Legion has been sponsoring its competition for many years. The number of students who take up that challenge is small – too small.
We encourage teachers, when they learn the details of next year’s competition, to encourage their students to take the risk of standing in front of a group of people and make their own voices heard.