Two Eldorado sophomores bested competitors from all around Southern Illinois Monday winning first and second place in the District 5 American Legion Oratorical Competition at Southeastern Illinois College.
This was the first time that the competition was held this far south in Illinois. It featured students from Effingham to the southern most border of the state.
Sophomore Dempsey Hankins, 16, of Eldorado High School won first place and classmate Riley Duckworth, 15, won second. Both girls will advance to the state competition to be held in Peoria on March 2. The state scholarship award for first place is $2,000. The national competition will be held in Indianapolis.
"I was very surprised and honored," said Hankins. I've never been to Peoria. I am nervous but excited."
Riley Duckworth is hopeful either she or her classmate will be able to advance from Peoria.
"It was a major relief to win after all the hard work I put into it. I hope Dempsey or I will be able to go to nationals. I will spend the money on college," she said.
According to a press release from the American Legion the National High School Oratorical Program was first conducted as a national contest in 1938 with eleven Departments competing. In recent years over 30,000 contestants have participated each year. Besides providing excellent experience for thousands of students, the program helps a vast audience of the American people to better understand the meaning of the United States Constitution.
The American Legion Department of Illinois awards $13,075 in scholarships each year to department finalists. The national organization gives $128,000 in scholarships to the national finalists, semi-finalists and winners to the National Finals.
The subject should be some phase of the Constitution of the United States that emphasizes the duties and obligations of a citizen of the United States. The same subject and oration used in the Department Contest must be used in the National Contest. The oration must be the original effort of each contestant and must not take less than eight or more than ten minutes to deliver.
The first place national scholarship is $18,000, second place is $16,000 and third place is $14,000.
Dempsey Hankins’ first place speech:
When something is absolute, the cliché often used is that is it “Cast in Stone.” A few things literally are “Cast in Stone”; the Ten Commandments for example. We as Americans have been fortunate enough to live under the most remarkable document of principles in the history of human existence-the United States Constitution. But fortunately for us it is not “cast in stone.” Our forefathers allowed for change in the form of amendments. To date there have been 27 changes to our Constitution, in most cases to make it better. Today, I am here to make a case for one more change. Because Article II, Section 1, Paragraph 5 of the Constitution of the United States says that “No person except a natural born citizen or a citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of this Constitution shall be eligible to the office of President.” To me this is personal. Military service has been a part of my family’s history for many generations. In fact, my Aunt Jacqueline was born in Vicenza, Italy while her father, my grandfather, was stationed there as a member of the 101st Airborne. It is her story that inspired me to choose this subject for my speech, because you see, until 2008 Aunt Jackie never had any chance to even dream of becoming President. Today I want to make a case that Article 2 is obsolete by: first, showing you the conflicts that have risen between Federal Law and the Constitution. Second, by bringing to light the real and potential harm caused by the lack of clarity in the second article, and third by explaining what needs to be done to meet the full intent of our Founding Fathers. Linda Monk, Harvard Law School Graduate and two time recipient of the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award writes in her book “The Words We live By” that, “There is an unanswered question whether a child born abroad of U.S. citizens, who is regarded as a natural-born citizen under federal law, would also be qualified to be president under the Constitution.” And therein lies the problem.
Page 2 of 3 - A perfect example of this problem is Vietnam War Hero John McCain. John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone in the Coco Solo Naval Hospital in 1936. His father was the executive officer of a submarine base in Coco Solo too. At this time The Zone was owned by the United States, so it was considered to be “U.S. Soil”. If he had been born of the neighboring Panamanian city of Colon however, he may not have been able to run for President as a constitutionally recognized natural born citizen. Where Senator McCain was born was of little significance until 2008 when he decided to run for President. In January of 2008 Senator McCain’s opponents began to question his eligibility. His opponents argued that he was ineligible under the Constitution because only a “natural born” citizen may become President. As Dr. Monk pointed out in her book though, the Constitution does not clearly define the term “natural born."
To be fair change has been attempted to clarify the term “natural born citizen,” even in the last 10 years. Since 2003 there have been eight attempts. The last attempt was Senate Resolution 511, a non-binding resolution that would make children born overseas to American active duty Military personnel to be considered “natural born.” In an email I received on November 20 from Senator McCaskill, she told me that her resolution passed and thus, Senator McCain was then eligible. In her judgment the Senate action set an important precedent for children born abroad to American citizens on active Military duty. In my judgment however Senator McCaskill’s resolution is only half a solution. According to the United Stated State Department there are 272 U.S. Embassies operating around the world. American citizens serve this country in more than just Military service and Senator McCaskilll’s resolution does not cover members of the Foreign Service who have children abroad. J. Christopher Stevens was one such Service member. Chris Stevens was an American ambassador stationed in Benghazi, Libya. Last September he was fatally shot in a terrorist attack on the embassy. Chris Stevens is no less of a hero, in my eyes, than a person serving in our Military. However, if Christopher Stevens had had a family in Libya his children, the children of a patriot, would not be classified as “natural born citizens’’ under the Constitution. They too would fall into the “gray area”. And in the 21st century America businesses are worldwide. I can’t imagine that our Founding Fathers, as brilliant as they were, could have envisioned American Military, political, and business interests all over an ever shrinking globe. In 2005 there were 4 million Americas raising families abroad and as our businesses expand more and more employees will be working outside the United States. During the just concluded presidential election you had to look no further than your local news channel to see this issue brought to light. Our current President, Barack Obama, has been accused of not his citizenship, but his eligibility, to be President under the Constitution. You can go to any search engine on the internet and type in Obama and natural born citizen and you will come up with thousands of results. One such result, The Obama File, raises the eligibility question because Obama’s father was not a U.S. citizen but a citizen of Kenya. They say that, because of this, Obama is not a “natural born citizen,” though Obama’s mother was a natural citizen of the United States. Another example is Mitt Romney’s father, George Romney, who was born to American citizens in Mexico. If a left wing version of Fox news existed at that time, his eligibility would’ve been questioned also. Restricting children born to America citizens abroad, these potential John McCains and Dwight Eisenhowers or Steven Jobs, is not helping our country at all but rather is hindering it from its ability to grow and change with the times.
Page 3 of 3 - Senator McCaskill’s resolution seems to me to be a logical first step to cleaning up that “gray area” that exists between Federal law and the Constitution. I would expand Senator McCaskill’s resolution to include all children born on foreign soil to American citizens to be qualified as “natural born” citizens. Who, under the Constitution, if they so wish, to run for President when they reach 35 years of age. And here is how it can be done; I’m only a high school sophomore but the American Legion is a political force so today I am urging the American Legion at a national level to petition the members of our Congress to support and extend Senator McCaskill’s resolution to unify Federal law and the Constitution and to begin the amendment process to include all children born to American citizens to be considered “natural born” under the constitution. We can all be a part of the process. My two senators are Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican Mark Kirk. I have contacted them both urging them to join Federal Law with the constitution and to finally eliminate the “gray area” and the conflicts that can arise when it’s a presidential election year. You should do the same!
Our Founders had the foresight to provide an amendment process for improving our beloved Constitution, and as I stated earlier, that process has been used 27 times to date. I hope you would agree with me that this new amendment I’m proposing is necessary. You have seen the people directly affected by this conflict, the confusion surrounding the second article, and finally, an attainable solution. I agree with Thomas Jefferson who wrote it 1816 that, “Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the Ark of the Covenant, too sacred to be touched. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. Institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him as a boy.” And who’s to argue with Thomas Jefferson?