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Davis Journal

NUAMES sophomore competes in National American Legion Oratorical Contest

May 23, 2024 09:56AM ● By Becky Ginos
NUAMES sophomore Simon Parnell loves to travel and hopes to work for a diplomat or become an ambassador someday. Parnell has been participating in debate since he was 12. Photo courtesy of Simon Parnell

NUAMES sophomore Simon Parnell loves to travel and hopes to work for a diplomat or become an ambassador someday. Parnell has been participating in debate since he was 12. Photo courtesy of Simon Parnell

FARMINGTON—Simon Parnell found debate when he was 12 and has been involved ever since. He put those skills to work participating in the American Legion Oratorical Contest for Utah and emerged as the winner. The NUAMES sophomore then moved on to represent the state at the National Competition held May 17 and made it to the quarterfinals out of 50-60 competitors from across the country.

“It was very competitive,” said Parnell. “But I learned a lot and next year I think I can get even further.”

A NUAMES counselor recommended he enter the American Legion contest. “I feel I did pretty well, I went on to win at state.”

The contest started in 1938 and focuses on the U.S. Constitution. “We have eight to 10 minutes to give a speech on any topic to do with the Constitution,” he said. “Then we have five minutes to speak on one of the predetermined Amendments the judges give you. You have to be prepared for all four they select.” 

Parnell said he read the book “1776,” that gave him a good idea of history in the making of the Constitution. “My speech for the district contest was on patriotism. I won and then I talked to the judges and they said it wasn’t close enough to Constitution education so for region I wrote another speech.” 

The speech compared the U.S. Constitution to Afghanistan’s, he said. “There are a lot of similarities. The U.S. ambassador oversaw the writing of their constitution in 2004. It was part of their efforts to democracy.”

It accomplished almost the same thing as the U.S. but their government ended up falling apart, said Parnell. “My speech was ‘Why did ours work?’ We have a good system for the treasury, strong military and relatively high trust in our laws. Our government is not perfect but it’s not extreme to the level of corruption in Afghanistan.”

Some of the points Parnell covered in his state speech were the differences between Afghanistan’s constitution and the United States. “Afghanistan was really corrupt and there was abuse of power,” he said. “The laws weren’t adhered to. Even though good laws were made they didn’t have the strict systems the U.S. had.”

Parnell said he was introduced to debate when he was 12. “I found debate so interesting. A discussion that doesn’t turn into a hostile environment. It’s about comparing and contrasting in a respectful way.”

It’s a good feeling to work hard on a speech, he said. “There’s the satisfaction of getting it perfect. I dedicated a lot of time working on my debate skills when I was 12 and got a lot out of it.”

Debate encourages problem solving, said Parnell. “You can identify your weaknesses and strengths and defend your own ideas but not attack others. Debate develops analytical skills. You have to think about the main ideas other people are saying.”

This type of debate is structured, he said. “It’s back and forth, not like a family dinner bash. It’s very well organized. I love to compete like that.”

When he’s not participating in debate, Parnell said he loves to go running. “I also play the piano, drums and enjoy theater. I’ve been in various plays. I was Marius in Les Miz for the Jaks Youth Theater. The skills in theater work well in debate. It’s a good combination of speech and drama.”

Parnell said his main aspiration is to work for a diplomat when he grows up. “My dream is to go to Georgetown. They’ve got a good program in diplomacy and international relations. I could go into epidemiology, medicine, etc. It’s a big field. I could be an ambassador or foreign officer. 

Parnell loves traveling. “So I hope I can get a job traveling the world,” he said. “I want to learn about the world. I love to learn.”