Ketchikan High School junior Henry Clark was on his way to a national competition in pursuit of a scholarship when the coronavirus pandemic canceled the program.
Clark had made it as far as the state-level portion of the American Legion Oratorical Contest, with hopes of winning the national competition and claiming a $25,000 scholarship.
Clark had been representing Kayhi at the contest, and had been named a national competitor when the national portion of the competition was canceled because of COVID-19.
The contest, which focuses on giving spoken presentations about aspects of the U.S. Constitution, has been held since 1938, according to online American Legion information,
“The program has presented participants with an academic speaking challenge that teaches important leadership qualities, the history of our nation’s laws, the ability to think and speak clearly, and an understanding of the duties, responsibilities, rights and privileges of American citizenship,” states the American Legion website.
During a Tuesday morning interview with the Daily News, Clark said that the contest is “actually rather broad.”
“You can talk about any aspect about the Constitution,” he said, adding that “the whole point of the speech contest to begin with is for the student to learn more about the Constitution.”
For Clark’s speech during the local branch of the competition, he focused on the First Amendment.
“The local level was honestly very hard,” he said, noting that he was competing against three other Kayhi students.
“I was proud of Ketchikan for showing how good they were,” he said of his competitors.
During the state contest, Clark said that competitors were assigned to talk for five minutes about any aspect of the U.S. Constitution that was selected at random during the competition.
Clark described that during his state contest, this meant he was speaking about “an amendment on pay raises for Congress and how that can’t be changed when they’re in their term.”
He noted that the experience was different than at the local level because all competitors are talking about the same subject.
“Both of us had to talk about it, which makes it kind of nerve-wracking. ... You have to like, know everything,” he said.
Clark also said that the stage he competed on in the state competition was much larger than in Ketchikan.
“It’s a little bit more nerve-wracking with that, and the room is huge and it just sucks up your voice,” he explained.
“There’s a lot more people there to watch,” Clark added.
According to Clark, the national portion of the competition won’t proceed virtually, unlike many academic events that were scheduled pre-pandemic.
“A lot of the contest actually had to do with physically being there in the first place,” he explained. “Like, for a speech it's very physical.”
Clark will still receive scholarship funds for winning the state-level contest and being named a national competitor.
Clark said that the experience allowed him to become more familiar with American Legion and what the organization does.
“I think it kind of got me involved with American Legion … I’d never really been there before (or) seen anything that they do,” he said of himself before competing.
After taking a visit to the American Legion post and competing in the local chapter of the competition, Clark said he learned from “just hearing them talk about how America works and the people that we lost in the war,” and that “it was just kind of an eye opening experience.”