FHN’s Uma Upamaka Heads to State Competition for American Legion Oratorical Contest

Posted on 02/06/2017

To have success in the American Legion Oratorical (ALO) Contest, a student must not only understand many of the concepts of the United States Constitution, but also have the wisdom to communicate those concepts. Francis Howell North (FHN) High School’s Uma Upamaka, only a freshman, already has the wisdom and understanding to take the ALO Contest by storm. She has won a couple competitions already, qualifying her for the state finals.

The Speech and Debate coach for FHN, Randy Pierce, has been doing this for decades. He recognizes talent when he see it, and he can certainly recognize it in Upamaka. “Unlike many freshmen,” Pierce said, “she is very adept at focusing on new concepts for extended periods of time; this makes her very coachable. She has a natural tendency to think carefully before ‘shooting from the hip.’ And she is exceptionally poised for someone her age.”

Upamaka, as Pierce suggests, has a great handle on the speech aspect of the contest. But the ALO takes more skill than that. Pierce explained, “The contest requires all of the speeches to focus on the U.S. Constitution in whatever fashion each student chooses. Uma decided to discuss the ramifications of the first three words of the Preamble, “We the People,” and how we should all learn, love, and live the Constitution. In addition, all contestants are required to present an extemporaneous (or adlibbed) speech, with only five minutes of preparation, on a randomly-selected Amendment to the Constitution.”

The result? Upamaka won the St. Charles contest in December and then took first place at the District level. Then at the Zone Competition in Hannibal in late January, Uma was once again the winner, and is moving on to the Final Four in Jefferson City on Feb. 18.

Pierce offered three reasons why the ALO competition, which was started in 1938, is beneficial for students. “It promotes civic literacy,” Pierce said, “and encourages students to become familiar with the many facets of the Constitution. Next, it develops critical thinking, as well as organizational and public speaking skills – all of which are essential for not only academic success, but success in all aspects of life. And thirdly, success in this contest can provide entrants with substantial scholarships. Uma is already guaranteed at least $1,400 as a result of qualifying for the state finals.” The scholarship award can be used at any college or university in the United States. The winners of the state competition will compete in the national competition. The winner of nationals is awarded an $18,000 scholarship, with second and third place also receiving large scholarships.

Upamaka is a great example of a student making the most of a rewarding club. Pierce said, “Any underclassmen interested in developing their thinking, research, listening, writing, and speaking skills need to join their school's Speech and Debate team!”

Students like Uma Upamaka are showing how a club can develop so many skills by inspiring students to think critically about the document that is the backbone of our government. And hopefully Upamaka’s desire to learn about the United States Constitution will inspire all of us to do the same.

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