Charles E. Richardson

A lot of good going on that few students (or the rest of us) seem to know about

It’s been a heavy education week for me. After church last Sunday, I headed to Mercer’s Willingham Chapel to listen to four fine young people compete in The Georgia American Legion’s High School Oratorical Scholarship program. This competition is as serious as the veterans’ service records.

The competition is called “A Constitutional Speech Contest.” Why? Because it’s based on the U.S. Constitution and the winner here goes on to the national competition next month in Indianapolis. The state winner walks away with $1,500 in scholarship money, and at the national, first place nets an $18,000 scholarship. Second place takes home $16,000, and third gets $14,000. All of the contestants receive an all expense paid trip for themselves and a chaperone.

As I looked around and talked to a few of the judges, some, including your’s truly, had never heard of this contest, and this year marks its 80th. The Legion knows it has an isssue and is working to fix it. I was ordered to do my part. I follow orders of folks who would take a bullet for me, so here goes.

Each student has to prepare a timed 8-10 minute speech about some aspect of the Constitution, then the Legion throws in a twist. After all of the finalists have given their initial prepared speech, they have to give another 3-5 minute speech on one of four possible topics. They know what the four topics are, but they don’t know which one will be chosen until after they’ve all finished their prepared speeches. This year the assigned topics were the Seventh, 10th, 16th and 17th Amendments to the Constitution.

I’m still wondering why I was asked to be one of the judges. I looked around the room and there sat Gary Simson, the senior vice provost at Mercer Law School; Judge Tripp Self, Georgia Court of Appeals; Superior Court Judge Verda Colvin, state senator and lawyer John F. Kennedy, Mercer Law grad, Eric Tivett, who was the 2002 winner of the Georgia speech contest and now practices law in the Atlanta area, and Cary King, also an Atlanta area attorney.

All of the students were fantastic, but there can be only one, and she was Meenal Joshi from Albany. She took the audience on a Pokémon tour of the Constitution. Yeah, you had to be there, but she was creative and entertaining. By rule, she has to give the same speech at the nationals. She’ll do just fine.

Monday night Mercer welcomed six journalists for a workshop on education coverage and in particular, how many school systems across the country have re-segregated, not by chance, but by design. Nikole Hannah-Jones, was the featured speaker who you may have heard on any number of media outlets, but her home base is The New York Times Magazine.

The event was held in collaboration with the Jack Tarver Library at Mercer and the Center for Collaborative Journalism. Tarver was publisher of the Atlanta Constitution and the Atlanta Journal, a Mercer grad, who provided cover for Ralph McGill’s writings during the civil rights era which won a Pulitzer Prize.

Finally, my week capped off with a visit to Hutchings College & Career Academy. Hold on, this might get confusing. Hutchings isn’t in the Hutchings Building, part of the Martin-Whitley Complex on Riverside Drive. That’s where the SOAR Academy is located. HC&CA is in the Robert Williams Building on Anthony Road. Don’t ask.

Whatever the name and location, they have something good going on there (disclaimer, I’m on an advisory board at the school). Students who choose to attend there can get a head start on a number of career pathways — from teaching to banking to culinary arts, flight operation, graphic design, printing and audio, video and film. The school offers Move On When Ready courses and certificate programs through Central Georgia Technical College.

Bibb County provides transportation from the student’s home school and there is no cost to dual enroll at CGTC.

One of the issues brought out in the panel discussions was that schools could do a better job helping parents understand what is available for their children. I’ll try to do my part in that effort, so keep reading.