Six seniors from the William S. Hart Union High School District traveled back through U.S. history Thursday evening for the Santa Clarita Valley Bar Association’s eighth annual High School Speech Competition.
While the virtual competition was a bit different due to COVID-19 restrictions on in-person events, the SCVBA didn’t want to let another year pass without giving seniors the opportunity to win scholarships as they prepare to graduate.
This year, participating students were graded both on their oral presentation and their essay, detailing the selected topic, which asked students to travel back in U.S. history and pick an event or series of events leading to the enactment of national legislation to personally witness and why that legislation was meaningful to them.
For West Ranch High School senior Amanda Sheppard, this was the labor rights issues brought forth during the Gilded Age, when the working class worked for long hours and little pay, which eventually led to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935.
“I realized the importance of unions when my mother became a preschool aide,” Sheppard said. “The teachers union allowed her and her colleagues access to livable wages and safe workplaces, which is especially important given the current health climate.”
Sheppard acknowledged she has not been personally affected by these workers’ rights issues, yet noted that not everyone is born into the same situation, and no one should have to give up their health and safety to make a living.
Hart High School senior Eyan Documet began his speech by noting that there were approximately 5,402,011 protests that occurred between January and October of 2017.
“Americans sure do take their civil rights seriously,” Documet said. “It’s ingrained in our Constitution. After all, we refer to the first 10 amendments of that Constitution as the ‘Bill of Rights,’ and they are quintessential to American culture.”
It’s for this reason Documet chose to travel back to when James Madison first proposed the Bill of Rights, which he said represents the beginning of a tradition and culture of personal freedom in America.
Similarly, Saugus High School senior Isabella Eng chose to travel back to a famous protest in 1963, the March on Washington, as it encompassed the nation as a whole, and in part, led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“I realize that I do not need a march on Washington to see the racism that runs rampant in this country because, 58 years after the March on Washington, people of color are still fighting for equality in America,” Eng said.
As an Asian-American, Eng said she has personally witnessed the number of Asian hate crimes rise through the pandemic, and it’s remembering what Martin Luther King Jr. said during the March on Washington that she said gives her the strength to continue to stand up for equal rights.
While Academy of the Canyons senior Ramesh Bahmaniyan also chose the Civil Rights Act, she chose to travel back to the Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, which she said first paved the way to the enactment of this legislation, as it helped make discrimination against skin color unconstitutional.
“It laid the foundation for America to be known as a land of equal education and advancement — two contributing factors for why many who are denied these opportunities in their homelands to immigrate to the United States, such individuals like my parents,” said Bahmaniyan, who identified herself as a Persian-American.
The judges were members of the SCVBA executive board, including: Taylor Williams, president; Lucas Rowe, secretary; and members at large: Corey Carter, Robert Castillo, John Noland and Cody Patterson. They deliberated each student’s presentation and then chose Sheppard as the first-place winner, with West Ranch senior Cami Armendariz placing second and Documet third.
These three students are set to present their speeches to the SCVBA during the organization’s Scholars & Bench Night, which is set to be held in person this month, before they are presented their cash scholarships of $700, $500 and $250, respectively.