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Need money for college?

April 7, 2011 - Dorothy McKnight
GLADSTONE — If I went up to any high school senior — or any high school student for that matter — and offered him or her $1,500 for college, would they refuse it? They’d be a fool if they did. But that is precisely what hundreds of high school students do year after year when they fail to take advantage of competing in the American Legion Oratorical Program. I have attended a few of the local competitions over the years as a reporter and the most competitors I have seen was three. Last year only one student in the entire U.P. took part. This year there were two. What’s interesting is that the first place winner receives a guaranteed $1,500 scholarship for college and the second-place winner is awarded $1,200. Even a third-place award of $800 is available if there’s a third competitor. In addition to the funds for a first-place winner, that student advances to the state level of competition and a chance to go on to the nationals where the first-place award is $18,000 ($16,000 for second and $14,000 for third). That’s quite a chunk of change! I have learned that before every annual competitions, each Legion post is asked to seek out a student to sponsor. In addition, Legion zone chairmen are requested to notify school counselors and government, speech and English teachers of each school in their area to inform them of the competition. And it’s obvious from the turnout that someone is missing the boat. Is it the Legionnaires? You have the opportunity, as a sponsor, to assist a student in your area with college financing. I see American Legion scholarships awarded for sports. I see American Legion scholarships awarded to “Best All-Around Boy and Girl.” Those are wonderful honors. But how exciting it would be if a Legion-sponsored student went on to receive the national award. Are you getting the word out? If not...why not? Is it the school faculty? If you’re a counselor or teacher whose job it is to help students prepare for college and you overlook this one, I have to ask, “Why?” You don’t even have to prepare the student to compete, although it would be terrific if a teacher or counselor offered a hand to assist the student with the application process or — better yet — actually helped the student prepare. Is it the kids themselves? Can you break away from your iPods, cellphones, computers, and other electronic devices long enough to at least check in to see what the competition is all about? I remember when my children were in high school, I never once heard about the program and I’m not sure why. I talked with Kevin McLaughlin, a Gladstone High School graduate who used to be my paperboy when he was young. He now lives in Dallas, Texas. After he read my stories online about the program and this year’s winners in the Feb. 28 edition of the Daily Press, he called to tell me that I had printed some incorrect information. I had been informed that no competitor from the Upper Peninsula ever made it to the nationals. In fact, Kevin had gone to the nationals. Although he didn’t win, he still received the scholarship money he had earned up until that time. He also told me how much he and his parents appreciated having the money available to him when it was time for him to go to college. But interestingly enough, he said he hadn’t known about the competition until he saw it posted on a bulletin board in the office of the GHS guidance counselor. I say bravo to Kevin for showing some initiative. So my challenge is fourfold. If you’re a Legionnaire, find out if your post is willing to sponsor a teen. If you’re a government or speech teacher or guidance counselor, inform your students about the competition or at least POST the information. If you’re a parent, check it out yourself. Complete information about the competition — including dates, rules, awards, and registration guidelines — visit If that’s too complicated or you lose the website name, just Google: legion oratorical contest and it will probably be the first one you’ll find. Then encourage your teen to take part. If your a student, give it a try. Even if you don’t advance to the finals, the fact that you had enough initiative to enter the competition looks good on a college application and later on a job resume. And there’s one more bonus. Try to imagine the expression on your parents’ faces when they have less to pay to get you into college.


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Dorothy McKnight