Department of Florida

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Oratorical: Chair

From the Chair

November 2020

Change is good. Or is it?

In September I attended the Oratorical part of the National Americanism Conference via Zoom. One Department had put forth an amendment asking that the Oratorical eliminate the Assigned Topic portion of the contest. They felt it made the contest too difficult and harder to get higher rates of student participation.

I voted in favor of keeping the Assigned Topic as I believe it was the intent of William Kitchen, who founded the program, to make the contest challenging. Part of the prestige of having competed and possibly won, is that the contest is so very challenging. Every year at the National Contest there are very qualified students vying for the top prize and that is proof to me that they are stepping up to meet the challenge. In a year when the National office increased the awards, I am opposed to lowering the standards. At the end of the vote, the overwhelming majority expressed similar sentiments.

This got me thinking….when is change a good thing and when is it not? Certainly it’s inevitable. For example, changing the amount of the award for the Oratorical is a good thing. But eliminating the Assigned Topic, I did not think was a good thing. Rick Newman of Yahoo Finance wrote that change can teach you to adapt and be resilient but it can also be stressful, costly and destructive. If you tire of your car every 3 years, that could be costly. But, changing your shoes and underwear is a good thing. Your feet and your partner will appreciate it. Change for the sake of change, without understanding the cause and effect of it, is questionable at best.

Whether we like it or not, as we grow and age, we are forced to change and adapt. Technology forces us to change how we communicate and do business. I used to be fascinated that we could FAX a document to another country over the phone lines. My sister and I were using a pulley on a clothes line to send hand written messages back and forth to our houses when we lived across the street from each other. But I did learn to FAX and email and Instant Message people as the technology advanced with my age. I even learned to “date” using America Online’s back in the 1990s! That is the subject of a very bad (okay, pathetic) short story. The relentless pursuit of changing to be better or best can be exhausting. But, never changing is equally daunting.

As Legionnaires, we should adapt to the changing world a little, even if we feel inclined to resist. It’s important for our membership that we attract younger people and more of them to carry on the legacy of the American Legion. As Oratorical chairmen, you must adapt to use social media and technology to find new ways to reach the students who can make our programs successful. That means you have to learn to use email or if you don’t, delegate to someone who does. We cannot succeed in our mission to support youth who need this scholarship money to fund college if we resist change.

Remember getting instant cameras for every worthy occasion and running to drop off the film to get developed. Kodak failed to adapt to the digital world in film and photo processing and has struggled ever since to keep a relevant and sustainable business. They simply could not envision a world without 35mm film and it has cost them dearly. At its peak, Blockbuster owned 9000 stores and raked in a cool 3 billion dollars a year in profits, 800 million was just in late fees! Now, Blockbuster has closed every store but one and it is renting itself out on Airbnb for $4.00 a night. My how things change. Let’s not be Kodak or Blockbuster.

While I was researching the Oratorical awards back in its early days, I found this—the first national Oratorical winner was in 1938. The contest was held at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. John Janson, of Phoenix, Arizona won by just a fraction of a point, taking home an engraved wristwatch, getting a four-day trip to Washington, DC and an invitation to appear at the American Legion National Convention.

In his winning oration, Janson said, in part: “This is the great challenge to American democracy today: To make democracy work; to keep a democratic, efficient, workable government that can cope with all the old and new problems and responsibilities forced upon us by the mechanization and industrialization of the Twentieth Century, and to keep in step with the boundless technological and scientific progress that is yet to come.”

“It is our responsibility and must be our destiny to prove to ourselves and to a suffering and disillusioned world that democracy can exist, can grow, and can flourish in this modern age.”

“This is not a responsibility that can be shouldered merely by fine words, and inspiring orations, but must be solved by hard work, by intelligent citizenship, by widespread public education, by constant vigilance, by rejection of old prejudices and outworn ideas, by a determination on the part of all the people to make democracy work so that their faith in democracy will be justified.”

“It is too much to ask that we, in 1938, meet our problems as fearlessly, with as much determination and foresight, as those founding fathers met theirs?”

Meri West