MOUNT MORRIS — The youth of today are demanding to have their voices heard, and in doing so they are honoring the country they call home.


The American Legion recently held its 81 Annual Oratorical Contest at Mount Morris Central.


The four high school contestants who competed for the zone 5 finals on Feb. 3 were Melissa Barnosky, of Albion, Hanna Sloth, of Stanley, Benedict Thomas, of Dundee, and Aidan Heaney, of Belfast. Heaney won second place. Barnosky won first place, and will be heading to the Department of New York Finals on March 3 at Sand Creek Middle School in Albany. If Barnosky wins the state finals she will have a chance for the National Finals held April 14 and 15 in Indianapolis.


“These four young people compete for thousands of dollars,” said Lee Brusino, American Legion zone 5 chairman. “They will present a prepared speech on the constitution and the duty of the citizens. They each must give an 8 to 10 minute speech, if they go over they get one point taken off. Afterwards they will get an assigned topic and have three to five minutes to present that speech, with one point taken off it they go over. These young people do their best possible job.”


Heaney did her speech on the rights of the African Americans and American Women. Her speech started with the story of the African American who refused to stand during the National Anthem.


“The right of free speech and how we continue to unify is the beauty of our nation,” she said. “Some want vengeance and some want honor. It is crucial to have freedom of speech.”


Heaney said that sharing unpopular opinions is in our blood.


“They felt less of a platform for freedom,” she said. “The entire American experience is unique. Our debates set us apart from other countries. We share debates and ideas so we can create a better future for our children.


“This generation must remember to respect and honor the sacrifice of our nation,” Heaney continued. “Our generations story has not been written yet. We uphold American values in the history of the last generation. We can study the problems they faced. Do not be silent about things that matter or our nation will perish from the earth.”


Barnosky did her speech on the significance of those who suffered for freedom.


“Suffrage was one of the most powerful rights in America. It gives us a voice in the government,” she said. “American do not understand the significance of voting. They feel like their individual votes don’t matter.”


Barnosky talked about the recent election between President Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. There was a huge difference in popular vote versus electoral vote.


“In the 1800s President John Adams impressioned the Americans who talked bad about the government,” she said. “It violated the congress when they made the law to allow freedom of speech and press. We need to vote in order to prevent more of these violations.”


Thomas did a speech on the rights of our citizens.


“Our nation was created during the age of enlightenment. We flourished on reason and logic,” he said. “We have a natural right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It was the Age of Enlightenment that demonstrated that era.


“Our great American society complained that the government has failed the freedom of speech, poor, and our security,” Thomas continued. “We never talk about our part in the contract. Our voter participation is less and less. This is the government and environment we have created.”


Sloth did a speech on the American Legion.


“Think about how your friends and family and mentors matter in your life,” she said. “So many people impact us in our lives, and they may not even know it. We are all the people no matter how large or small our impacts are.”


Sloth said that every sacrifice our veterans have made for our freedom is an important impact.


“If the people do not speak up for what they stand for than how will anything get done,” she said. “The world changes every day. The women fought giant battles for our freedom, and risked it all. Now that is bravery. We have freedom of speech to talk about our opinions, so why do so many of us stay silent.”


All four of the contestants gave a brief speech about the second amendment that talks about the right to bear arms. 


Sloth is the only contestant from the home school academy and Mr. Robert Babcock’s class. She loved being the youngest contestant to make it this far even if she did not go on to states. Sloth is a 13-year-old freshman and plans on being part of the contest again next year.


“It is great opportunity for us to learn more about the U.S. Constitution,” she said. “I have done a lot of research on it, and have been able to form an opinion.”


Sloth said the drive is not in winning, but in knowing how to make yourself better in the future.


“I would like to go to the contest in Albany just to see how it is done,” she said. “I want to learn about how to get better.”


American Legion Department of New York Post Commander Rena Nessler is the first female in her position in 99 years. This honor has historically gone to men.


“These students are our leaders of tomorrow,” she said. “They get to stand up there on stage and speak about the importance of the U.S. Constitution. They know more about it than most of the people that are listening. They have the poise and dedication to inspire all of us.”


Nessler said the National Post Commander of the American Legion is a woman this year as well, and the first to hold that position in history.


“It takes a lot of dedication and a special someone to do this kind of public speaking,” she said. “I am excited to be the first woman in 99 years to hold my position. It is trail blazing, not just as a veteran, but as a woman. I am following in my National Commander’s footsteps. It is a great opportunity to make this change in our state and nation.”