Carson High senior headed to national speech contest

Carson High’s Ryan Soulier will be the school’s first student to attend the American Legion Oratorical Contest National Finals in Indianapolis on April 22-24. Jessica Garcia/Nevada Appeal

Carson High’s Ryan Soulier will be the school’s first student to attend the American Legion Oratorical Contest National Finals in Indianapolis on April 22-24. Jessica Garcia/Nevada Appeal

Carson High School senior Ryan Soulier can memorize a new eight- to 10-minute speech in two or three days using simple skills like singing or his former acting skills he developed, and that’s the easy part.
It takes a little more work to research the information, assembling quotes and compiling the topical information tailored to any assignment or competition, but the work has paid off.
Soulier is the first student in Carson High history to win the American Legion Department of Nevada High School Oratorical Scholarship Contest and to make it to the national finals in Indianapolis in April, where he will compete against students from all 50 states.
The national contest winner will receive a $25,000 scholarship, second place receiving $22,500 and third place receiving $20,000.
At the local level, Soulier’s assignment was to write a speech about the U.S. Constitution and American citizens’ responsibility to protect it. He delivered at the American Legion Department of Nevada High School Oratorical Scholarship Contest held Feb. 5 at the Veterans Memorial Hall in Carson City.
It’s a topic Soulier is familiar with having been a part of the program since he was a freshman. The American Legion’s topic remains the same from year to year, but returning students must write new speeches each year.
“In the past, I’ve done speeches about the different duties and obligations and about registering for selective services and participating in the democratic process,” Soulier said. “But this time, I was thinking to myself, what really is the truest way that people protect these duties and obligations, the way that we see ourselves within our society?
“People became patriots in order to protect their way of life, so I wrote a speech on patriotism, and my speech is saying people need to be patriots in order to influence change,” he said. “We need patriots who are willing to stand up for their country.”
Soulier was to participate in three rounds of Carson City’s American Legion competition, although he only competed in two after being the sole participant for one of the contests. He received the Patrick Henry gold medal and prize money from American Legion Department Cmdr. Richard Eberly and 1st Vice Cmdr. Valerie Scheuering.
His speech on patriotism and its significance for Americans to practice in their daily lives earned first place, he said. Also, participants were asked to research and prepare a speech within five minutes then deliver it.
“There was also a portion of the competition where we were given an assigned topic, and it was an article of the Constitution,” Soulier said. “It would focus on something like the eighth article in talking about unfair treatment or unfair punishment within places like prisons or jails.”
The American Legion High School Oratorical Scholarship Program, founded in 1938, was developed to motivate high school students to study the Constitution, strengthen their speaking skills and accept the responsibilities of citizenship.
It’s one of at least three that Patrick Mobley, Carson High world history teacher and speech and debate coach, consistently has had his students compete in during his tenure. Mobley said his program has about 16 students. Numbers have decreased from about 30 students since COVID-19 as well as national programs’ abilities to host in-person competitions.
“When it first hit, we were literally on the bus to Las Vegas to a state tournament in mid-March of 2020, then there was last year when we didn’t have any in-person competitions,” he said. “Last year, there was online competitions, and it was way different and it doesn’t have nearly the same experience or benefits. … The post-COVID comeback is quite nice. We can actually do these events again.”
American Legion’s competition also is unique in that its main topic is consistent, Mobley said.
“You can’t use the same speech for every year, but you can take what you have learned and directly apply it to the new speech and so you can see clear growth from year to year as I give feedback, as the judges from the competition give feedback or others from the competition give feedback,” he said.
Soulier will travel to Indianapolis on April 22 with a pre-contest orientation to be held that night. Quarterfinal and semifinal rounds are scheduled for April 23 and the championship will be held April 24.
“As this is a competition about the duties and obligations of American citizenship, I’m hoping to understand more if people really truly do believe something like patriotism is important or something like participating in the democratic process, like voting, is important,” Soulier said about the competition.
He said although he’s still deciding what he’d like to do after high school, he hopes to enter political science or possibly become a motivational speaker to help others “understand a different way of looking at things.”
Although he initially considered dropping the program himself when he first started, he encourages fellow students who might be shy or not quite as self-confident to consider the program is a perfect opportunity to improve upon their own public speaking skills.
“This class and this course helps them come of their shell and help talk in front of people and in front of groups,” he said. “It helps you so you’re heard.”
He says it’s taken time for him to learn how to be as articulate as he is and how to exclude filler words in daily speech. It’s also given him even more resourceful insight.
“It’s also taught me more about researching and understanding what’s going on before you make an accusation or a claim than just automatically saying, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on, I think we need to do this,’” he said. “It teaches you valuable life skills so you’re not that one person who’s always getting beat down by others because you’re making some random accusation that you have no idea what you’re saying.”
For information about the American Legion Oratorical Contest, visit www.legion.org/oratorical.

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