By TAYLOR HARTZ
Jennifer Magnoli has recited the same 1,500 words more times than she can count. For months, the 15-year-old has been practicing her prepared oration, getting ready for the final speech competition of the season.
Given the broad topic of “The Constitution,” Magnoli wrote three pages on what the Constitution means to her and to other young women across the globe. Last weekend, she delivered her eight-minute speech at the American Legion’s National Oratorical Contest.
When she stepped on stage in Indianapolis, Ind., Magnoli looked into a crowd of hundreds, not knowing where the anonymous judges might be seated. The only thing she did know was that she was representing—not only her hometown of Southington—but the entire state of Connecticut.
“To know that I’m representing Connecticut is an amazing experience,” said Magnoli.
Earlier this year, Magnoli decided to follow in her older brother’s footsteps and begin public speaking. She entered the local American Legion contest with an oration titled, “Taking Risks.”
In addition to their main oration, students are given four specific sections of the Constitution, and asked to prepare a different speech for each section. They do not know which one they will be asked to deliver at the competition.
“It’s definitely nerve-racking” said Magnoli, “but it’s been an invaluable experience.”
The competition, in it’s 79th year, starts at the local level. Her first competition took place at Southington High School, where she delivered her main oration and spoke about the 8th Amendment. She came in first place, judged by SHS Principal Brian Stranieri, Superintendent of Southington Public Schools Timothy Connellan, and Board of Education Member Terri Carmody.
Next, Magnoli moved up to the district level, competing against students from Endfield and South Windsor. Then, she competed statewide. She swept the board each time.
Soon she was selected as the top orator in the state, bringing her to a competition with students from all 50 states, along with entrants from Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.
Though a Washington State student, Bejamin Crosby, took first place for his oration on “Constitution Literacy,” Magnoli said she has learned a great deal from each experience. In addition to being judged on timing, delivery, diction, presentation, and content, Magnoli said the four competitions have taught her self confidence and social skills.
Set up in a bracket system, the Connecticut native was able to meet students from dozens of different states at the national competition. In the first round, she was pitted against students from California, Ohio, Oklahoma, and South Carolina.
“You get to learn so much about different parts of the country,” said Magnoli.
As she learned about all 50 states, her speech focused on domestic and international women’s rights. Her father, Robert Magnoli, said that Jennifer really personalized her speech and “showed how it is important to her.”
“It makes it more interesting when you bring it back to what’s going on today and how it affects you,” Magnoli said about her choice to speak about women’s issues, including education.
Focusing on “Taking Risks,” Magnoli spoke about risks that girls her age in other countries take for an education and to achieve equality.
A sophomore at Mercy High School, an all girls Catholic school in Middletown, Magnoli said the topic allowed her to reflect on the many opportunities she has thanks to the Constitution—including the National Oratorical Contest, itself.
“I can give all of my opinions to a room full of people,” she said. “That’s very special.”