A different perspective

Weiouqing Chen

Massanutten Military Academy senior Weiouqing Chen has a different perspective than many students that participate in the American Legion Oratorical Scholarship every year.

Officially a citizen from the Chinese province of Guizhou, Chen, 18, moved to the United States three years ago.

Chen was one of two local high school students to partake in the 15th District Oratorical Contest at the Woodstock American Legion Post 199 center on Wednesday. The other was Central High School senior Samuel Barbour.

The 15th District contest covers the northwest portion of Virginia and includes towns including Berryville, Woodstock and Front Royal.

By being awarded first place in Wednesday’s district contest, Chen is moving on to present at the regional level, with a chance at competing for first place in the state.

The American Legion Oratorical Scholarship is national event that is described by Legion.org as “a constitutional speech contest, with stages held at the local high school and regional levels.”

The top three students in the nation will receive at total of $138,000 in scholarship money, with first place receiving $18,000, second place receiving $16,000 and $14,000 going to third place.

Contestants are scored in a variety of categories including timing — each speech must be between 8 to 10 minutes — as well as speaking ability.

The fact that he is not an American citizen, Chen said, “Makes me a little special in the sense that I can write about something that I know better than American citizens.”

For his speech, Chen was tasked with describing and interpreting “the responsibility of United States citizens within the framework of the constitution.”

With this concept, Chen chose to compare and contrast the constitutions of China and the United States.

According to Chen, the Chinese constitution was revised five times between 1954 and 2004.

Chen said that the most recent constitution of China “enumerates the duties of citizens.” As an example, Chen referenced the country’s “One Child Policy” that historically restricted couples to have only one child.

In contrasting the constitutions, Chen made the assertion that American citizens have “implied duties” such as being informed and thoughtful voters.

On his thoughts before the speech, Chen said, “I was pretty nervous. This was the first time I have presented in English in this manner.”

He said that English is something children in China are taught very early on, in much the same way that Spanish and French are in the United States – secondary languages in school.

“I feel that Mr. Chen is a wonderful student, a very hard worker and I do think he has a unique perspective looking at the American constitution,” MMA teacher Frank Polito, who coached Chen for the competition, said.

“I could certainly see his nervousness and I could see that he did a great job in preparing,” Polito said, adding, “The way he looks at an issue like this, it causes me as an American citizen … to see his perspective.”

Ray Powell, a member of the Post 199 American Legion and chairman of the competition, has organized this regional event for the past eight years.

At the end of the contest, just before awarding first place to Chen, Powell commented on the importance of the event in relation to preparing the students for life after high school.

Powell also noted that the various levels of the contest represent chances for the students to learn something new.

“When they present to their peers, their peers are learning more about the constitution … than sitting and reading a book,” Powell said.

The chance to participate in this contest, Chen said, has broadened his view.

“This competition can make me have a better sense of what life will be like in college, meeting all of the new people that I never knew before,” Chen said.

For his future, Chen said that citizenship is “certainly something I am thinking about, but there is not much tangible that I am doing with it at the moment.”

However, Chen will have his student visa, at the very least, through his college years.

Chen said has applied to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, William and Mary, and has been accepted at St. John’s. He said he has not decided where he will attend school, but that he wants to study either math, philosophy or physics.

Chen will now move on to prepare for the regional oratorical contest that will be held Feb. 8 in Manassas.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com