Department of Florida

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Oratorical: Chair

From the Chair

March 2021

Oratorical News

In an email to Department Oratorical Chairmen on February 17th , the National office just announced the following:

After a great deal of careful consideration, the Americanism Commission, in consultation with National Commander James William “Bill” Oxford, announces the cancellation of the American Legion National Oratorical Contest in Indianapolis on April 9th through the 11th. This decision was extremely difficult but deemed necessary, with new variant strains of COVID-19 holding uncertainty for the possibility of reinfection and the Coronavirus vaccination not yet available to many folks.

Please continue to wear your masks to minimize the risk of infecting others, especially students, with the Coronavirus. Masks are the easiest way to put a barrier between you and an infected person. This is the second year there has been no National contest and it’s killing me! Surely, we can all help get this virus under control if we do the minimum to contain the spread.

Nevertheless, the Department Oratorical Contest will be held Saturday, March 13th at the Department Headquarters. We are limiting the audience to better follow the CDC guidelines about social distancing for Covid, so check with Bekki Tibbs or myself if you are interested in attending. We are trying to stay at forty (40) people or less for the whole event. The students’ speeches will be video-taped and allowed to be distributed after the National contest is completed.

I had the pleasure of attending the Central Area Oratorical held in Dunedin, FL at Post 275. Thanks to Sid Damsgard for the hospitality and a great contest. Isabel Bequer, from the 15th District took first place. Robert Khazanov from the 16th District was second.

Left to right: Post Commander/Central Area Commander Sid Damsgard, judge Phyllis Gorshe, Isabel Bequer, judge Victor Lucas, Robert Khazanov, judge Andrew Gracy, judge Katherine Kastanis.

Isabel’s winning speech centered on the topic of our duty as informed citizens to ensure we are not disseminating false information on social media platforms or any public forum. Admittedly, it’s a tricky and often thorny topic but she did a good job of explaining how while we have the right to free speech, we have an obligation to be educated and informed citizens and that takes a lot more work, thought and effort.

Certainly it’s too broad a topic for a student to cover in a ten minute speech but this is the very essence of the Oratorical program that its founder, William Kitchens sought to encourage. I think Kitchens would be applauding from his grave to hear these students take on a complex and tangled topic like Free Speech during these times of political turmoil. He wanted to encourage students to think on their feet and think critically and to learn more about the Constitution and how it propels our government and democracy forward.

Ultimately, he wanted to give students a forum or platform to practice public speaking and leadership and Isabel and Robert both stepped up to meet the challenge.

Meri West