ALBANY, Ga. -- Three students spoke on patriotism at the Exchange Club of Albany's "American Citizenship Speech Contest" Friday.
Sonam Patel, 18, of Deerfield-Windsor School, was voted first place by three judges and given $150 by the club. She spoke of the immigrant experience her father had on entering the country at 17 with the clothes on his back and $15 to his name.
"Why did he come here? Because he knew this was the country where anything is possible," Patel said. "He is now a husband who can provide a private education for his children, can travel around the world and owns things."
Her answer to a question the judges posed about illegal immigration showed she could think on her feet as well as deliver a prepared speech.
"Illegal immigrants should know the American dream is a sacrifice," Patel said. "If you want to be an American, you have to go through the rigorous legal process. It is not for those who take the lazy way out."
Dervin J. Cunningham, 17, of Westover High School, spoke of history and the necessity for the checks and balances in our governmental system. He was awarded $100 for second place.
Ben Tison, 18, of Albany High School, touched on the religious freedom Americans enjoy to earn uncompensated third-place recognition.
As the first-place recipient, Patel can go on to the community service organization's district speech contest June 19, at the Georgia District Exchange Clubs Convention at St. Simons Island. The prize at that convention is $1,500.
All in all, the students took on the contest with the exuberance of youth. They had to write and memorize an at-least five-minute, original speech. Then they had to stand before a group of nearly 100 strangers -- members and guests at the club lunch meeting -- and deliver the speech.
"It is difficult to write a speech and give it in front of people you don't know," said Robert Youngblood, the club member in charge of the contest. "This was a very good effort by all our students."
Club members attending the meeting thought the students did very well in their efforts.
"Even though her speech was very good, I think it was her answer to the judge's question that carried her through," said Frank Schaeffer, a club member from Albany, referencing Patel's efforts. "Her answer was as good as her speech."
The students all seemed to rank high in club member Shelly Davis's view.
"It takes a lot of courage to stand up there to make a speech," Davis said. "They all had the right things to say about America."
The speeches were judged by a trio of Darton College officials: Simonee Patton, director of minority advising, and assistant professors Teresa Eberhardt and Pat Ridgeway.