VALE – Aliza Saunders decided to compete in the annual American Legion oratorical contest on a whim but the decision paid off for the Vale High School senior.
Saunders claimed first place at the American Legion state competition in Lebanon earlier this month. The win propels Saunders to Indianapolis, Indiana, on April 22 to compete in the national American Legion oratorical competition.
Saunders also won the advanced public speaking contest at the recent state Future Farmers of America convention.
For Saunders, the accolades are welcome but her success is firmly rooted in an interest in history.
“I’ve taken it upon myself to learn what I can about American history, from the Founding Fathers to how (President Ronald) Reagan impacted American economics,” said Saunders.
To compete in the contest, Saunders wrote, memorized and prepared to deliver five speeches that focused on the U.S. Constitution.
The Legion contest began at the local level at the Vale American Legion Post 96 where Saunders clinched first place.
“I had to have one speech of eight to ten minutes prepared about any aspect of the Constitution, the duties of a citizen and why it is important today,” said Saunders.
Saunders said about 25 people – including American Legion Post 96 commander Gino Silva and post adjutant John Recla – were on hand for the Vale contest.
“They were all very enthusiastic. They decided to give me a $200 check and I moved on to district,” said Saunders.
At the American Legion district competition in Nyssa, Saunders again claimed first place.
“It was the same format and they gave me a scholarship for $500,” said Saunders.
The Nyssa win qualified Saunders to compete at the state contest.
Saunders gave the same speech on the Constitution but this time she faced four competitors.
“They all gave their speeches before me. The topic was amendment eight,” said Saunders.
The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the federal government from enforcing excessive bail, excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishments.
Saunders’ speech on the Eighth Amendment was titled “Sufferings that Corrupt Freedom.”
“In America, we have the Eighth Amendment to thank for personal protection against brutal retributions and fund-draining legal fees. The motivation of this amendment was to protect the newly-minted citizens from outrageous abuse for minor infractions,” Saunders wrote.
Saunders’ state speech explained the reasons the Founding Fathers believed such protection was necessary.
“The protection offered by Eighth Amendment is against physical abuse. It is a way to ensure that the punishment fits the crime,” wrote Saunders.
The experience at the state competition proved to be unusual, said Saunders.
“After two hours of waiting for results we were called back to the room,” said Saunders.
Initially, Saunders, 17, finished fifth. When her place was announced, said Saunders, the crowd booed.
“They redid the results – had everyone come up and they switched around all the certificates. I ended up winning. Apparently, they (the crowd) liked what I had to say and decided the judges were wrong,” said Saunders.
The victory at state earned Saunders more than $5,000 in scholarships and the trip to the national competition.
“It has been a very cool contest to compete in. I was very glad I did it,” said Saunders.
Saunders said the American Legion will pay for her plane ticket to Indianapolis and her hotel room.
Saunders said the best thing about the competition was “probably being able to deliver my ideas to people I met who were very interesting.”
“People gave me tips all the way from the post level to the state level,” said Saunders.
A win at the national contest could net Saunders nearly $18,000 in scholarships.
Scholarships will be important to Saunders. She said she intends to pursue a major in business then complete an 18-month mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After her mission, Saunders said she plans to go to law school.
Saunders said her success can be traced to her love of reading and her teachers “who have been fortunate enough to give me ways to learn about the Constitution.”
Silva, the post commander, said Saunders is a “hellva speaker.”
“I think it’s amazing.” he said.
Silva said this is the first time that the American Legion District 10 – which includes Malheur, Harney and Grant counties – had someone win at the local, regional and state level.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM – Available for $5 a month. Subscribe to the digital service of the Enterprise and get the very best in local journalism. We report with care, attention to accuracy, and an unwavering devotion to fairness. Get the kind of news you’ve been looking for – day in and day out from the Enterprise.