ALBANY, Ga. -- With just five minutes to show their poise and make their points, three area high school students impressed the Exchange Club of Albany's members Friday.
The occasion was the club's annual American Citizenship speech competition, and at stake was a first prize of $250 and the chance to compete for $1,500 at the club's district convention in June.
Three judges from Darton College's faculty took what seemed to be a long time while they went over the merits of the speeches and the presentation of the students. It was a sign that the decision was difficult.
Kensley Fields, a junior at Westover High School, was chosen the winner. The other students, Meera Kuntawala, also a junior at Westover, and Kyle Constable, a junior at Lee County High School, all received standing ovations in recognition of the close contest.
"I see a future mayor, city council member and maybe a city manager in this group," club President Barney Knighton said. "We are leaving this country in good hands."
With confidence and knowledge of the Constitution, Fields' memorized speech followed the contest guidelines to speak on a positive theme: "Our Voice. Our Vote. Our Constitution."
He chose to speak about the importance of voting and the process of amending the Constitution. In his speech, he mentioned both women's suffrage and the later fight for civil rights denied people because of their race.
"There are reasons why the United States Constitution has lasted for 225 years, and those reasons are the 27 amendments," Fields said.
"This is because Americans with their voice have had the power to change anything that is outdated, inefficient or needs to be enhanced."
Each participant had supporters at the competition, whether it was a speech coach, friends or family. John Field, interim chief of police at Albany State University, exemplified the pride everyone had in the contestants.
"I'm just so proud of him. He gets it all from his mother," Fields said.
"He wants to go to law school and major in corporate and business law."
Just as patriotic were speeches by the other speakers. Constable spoke about the Constitution's system of checks and balances, the role of voters to make their voices known and the interconnectedness of the people and their government.
Kuntawala spoke about a land built of immigrants and the continued desire to make America a home that fuels immigration.
"Rather than viewing illegal immigrants as unwanted or aliens, we should offer them the same chances we have and encourage those who could make a difference in our society to become citizens," Kuntawala said. "We are lucky enough to live in the best country in the world. Shouldn't everyone be able to enjoy that privilege?"