Third Time’s the Charm for Homeschooled Orator
by LeeAnn Bisulca
On April 19, 2009, on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, homeschooler Andrew Dykstal took first place in the American Legion Oratorical Contest. His winning speech, “A More Perfect Union,” earned him an $18,000 scholarship for college, as well as the satisfaction of an achievement toward which he had worked for three years.
Andrew Dykstal, 18, plans to use his American Legion Oratorical Contest scholarship to attend Hillsdale College .
The 18-year-old first attempted the contest three years ago. “I’m really interested in government,” he says, “and this speech competition was an opportunity for me to learn more about it and try to communicate it to a wide audience.”
Despite being eliminated at the district level that first year, Andrew had so much fun competing that he returned the following year. After going all the way to nationals, he lost in the first elimination round to the speaker who ultimately won first place. “I figured each time I went back, my odds just improved,” recalls Andrew. Sure enough, when he returned to the contest for the third year in a row, he vaulted all the way to first place.
Andrew certainly did his share of work to increase those odds. He started writing the main oration for this year’s contest back in November 2008. In the weeks prior to each level of the competition (district, state, and national), he practiced delivering the speech nearly every day at his church building. His mother, Sue Dykstal, and speech coach, Lori Walters, listened and critiqued. Andrew also had to prepare for four possible assigned-topic discourses. (The discourse theme is randomly selected moments before the assigned-topic phase of the competition begins.)
Andrew says that wide reading and participation in speech and debate were critical factors in his American Legion win. “I suffer from a horrible condition; I’m interested in everything,” he remarks wryly. “I think what’s really been unique about my homeschool experience is the amount of freedom I was allowed to have to explore topics I was interested in.”
Sue Dykstal says that the initial decision to homeschool Andrew and his older sister was tentative: “Because our first child had already taught herself to read, we figured we couldn’t mess up kindergarten! But then my husband and I discovered that we were in the most effective position to challenge our children academically while teaching them life skills—all while continuing to emphasize godly learning and living.” The Dykstals went on to homeschool their children straight through elementary and high school.
This fall, Andrew will be studying political science at Hillsdale College in Michigan on his first-place scholarship. Afterward he plans to attend law school, with hopes to pursue a law career.
Andrew is grateful to the personnel at American Legion Post 38 for their support and sponsorship as he moved through the levels of competition. He encourages homeschoolers to contact their local American Legion post if they’re interested in participating in the oratorical contest. “This is a competition where homeschoolers have a great potential to do well,” he points out. He should know.
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View Andrew’s winning speech in the American Legion Oratorical Contest and find out how you can compete.