UNION, NJ – A Union High School senior, who was last year’s New Jersey state champ in the National American Legion Oratorical Contest, took home first place in this year’s first-round competition.

With her speech ‘The Fall of Free Speech’, Ayokunnumi (Faithful) Oluwakuyide placed first against five other contestants in the national contest.   

“This is one of the hardest speech competitions in the United States,” said Union High School English teacher Sandra Mangarella.  Each contestant is required to recite a memorized eight- to ten-minute oration prepared on any aspect of the United States Constitution. 

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The national speech contest, created in 1938 to help develop a deeper knowledge and appreciation of the U.S. Constitution among high school students, consists of the memorized speech on the Constitution as well as a three- to five-minute impromptu speech about one of the amendments.  The prepared oration must be the original effort of each contestant.

Taking second place was junior Jared Williams with his speech ‘Let America Live’.  In third place was junior Christina Anurum-Anyanwu with ‘The First Amendment  - How Far We Have Come’.  Also competing were high school juniors Britney Fils, Tamira Morisset, and Rachel Mendoza.

Last April, Oluwakuyide was among only 53 high school orators from around the county who earned the distinction to compete in the American Legion’s 82nd Annual National Oratorical Contest in Indianapolis.  At the National competition, Oluwakuyide won $1,500 and “made her teachers and parents proud of her awesome performance and oratorical capabilities,” said Mangarella.  Patrick Junker, the student state winner from Iowa, won first place and $18,000.  

Jon Tummillo, Union High School English and public speaking teacher, said aside from the academic skills, students learn speech techniques and research and writing skills.  “The effect this has on them is a boast of confidence when they see they’ve created something original, put themselves out there to be vulnerable, but powerful,” said Tummillo.  He said students work independently, with help from he and Mangarella.  “But, they have to write and deliver the speech all on their own.  Over the holidays, they were working on the speeches, rehearsing and memorizing it,” he added.

Oluwakuyide moves onto the next round of competition at Union High School on Jan. 25.