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2-time state champ thankful for opportunity to compete at oratorical contest

Photo by Tom Rivers: Melissa Barnosky, a senior at Albion, made it to the state finals for the American Legion Oratorical Contest on three occasions, winning the title in 2018 and 2019. She competed at nationals twice.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 April 2019 at 10:30 am

ALBION – An Albion student has set a new standard among local participants in the annual American Legion Oratorical Contest.

Melissa Barnosky in 2018 was the first Albion student to win the state title in the contest, and she represented New York at the national competition in Indianapolis, which is the headquarters for the American Legion. Barnosky repeated that feat this year after again winning at the school, county, district and zone levels, before going to Albany and claiming the state title.

Barnosky acknowledged she might seem an unlikely winner in the oratorical contest. She is introverted and many consider her to be shy. She said she needs to overcome “terrible stage fright.”

But with the competitions, she is transformed and focused on delivering the speech. She has honed the skill to make the speech, which is full of dense material, to also be engaging. She uses facial expressions, gestures, “even the way I walk onto the stage,” she said.

She also has learned to project her voice, without yelling.

She needed to research, prepare and deliver an 8- to 10-minute speech about the Constitution and the role of citizens. She titled her prepared speech, “Civic knowledge, the key to our vigilance.”

She also needed to prepare four other speeches that were 3 to 5 minutes. The four other topics were assigned at random at the district, zone, state and national competitions.

Photo by Sue Starkweather Miller, Albion Central School: Melissa Barnosky is pictured on March 2 in Albany with Anthony Paternostro, chairman of the American Legion’s oratorical contest. Barnosky won the competition for the second straight year.

Twice in competitions this year she was asked to speak about the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. At the state and national competitions, she was assigned the 4th Amendment, which protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures.

“It’s not for everyone,” Barnosky, 17, said about the competition. “It’s a lot of work. You have to write the speech, and practice over and over.”

She was in Indianapolis on April 6 at nationals, competing with 52 other state champs. In addition to the winners from all 50 states, there is a champion from Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the Department of France for American students from about a dozen countries in Europe.

Those 53 are separated into the quarterfinals with nine groups of five or six students. Barnosky came in second out of six in her group and didn’t advance to the finals. The Wisconsin state champ advanced out of her group. The 82nd annual competition was won by Patrick Junker of Iowa. His winning prepared oration was titled, “The Spread of Constitutional Apathy and how to Quarantine it.”

Barnosky ends the competition with $21,500 in scholarships, which she will use for her college expenses. She is heading to Brockport State College to major in political science.

She is thankful for the American Legion for sponsoring the contest at the local, regional, state and national levels.

“I feel like the American Legion hasn’t given up on the youth,” she said Monday during an interview at the school.

The competition has her more confident as a public speaker. She also has developed the ability to research a topic and present that information, which can feel complicated and arcane, in a way that people can more easily understand.

She also is more aware of the critical role of citizens, who need to know the Constitution and keep watch on their elected officials, to make sure their decisions aren’t unconstitutional.

She would like to help other students compete in the oratorical contest. Her first pupil will be her younger brother, William, who is an eighth-grader. He attended many of his sister’s competitions.

Barnosky urges more students to try the event, to prepare the speech and deliver it. They will be better citizens for the effort.

“I’m grateful to have earned money and made it to nationals,” she said. “I was honored to represent my state.”

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