Editor's note: Below is a speech from Alex Brunson, a senior at Dutch Fork High School. Brunson was selected to participate in the James Otis Lecture Series, an annual program about the U.S. Constitution in observance of National Constitution Day. Constitution Day is on Sept. 17.
The series, which is hosted by the South Carolina chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates, will focus on “The First Amendment in Modern Times.” The event begins at 11 a.m. Friday at the State House in the House of Representatives Chamber.
Constitution Day Speech
Before I begin, I would first like to express my undying gratitude and appreciation for both my teacher, Ms. Kelly Payne, who asked me to speak at this esteemed program, and Mr. Joel Collins Sr. along with the American Board of Trial Advocates who allowed me to participate. It is truly an honor and a privilege to stand before you all here in the chamber of the State House in celebration of what is no doubt one of the most important documents known to this great nation: the United States Constitution.
When I first learned that I was chosen to speak at this program, I was giddy with excitement. Soon thereafter, however, my eyes were opened to the grandeur of the occasion. In just a few months I would speak before hundreds of friends and family members, teachers and co-workers, and some of the most erudite and scholarly minds of South Carolina. Needless to say, I was a bit overwhelmed. At the time, I had not the slightest clue as to where to begin my speech that would be recorded, broadcast, and observed by so many of my fellow South Carolinians. As a writer and a thinker, such a loss for words was surely an anomaly. Everyone who knows me can testify to the eager and zeal with which I typically share my thoughts, regardless of whether or not I have been asked to do so.
I looked to my teachers, my attorney associates, and even a few people I did not know for direction. In that quest, just as in any archetypical journey, I returned home with far more knowledge than I intended to receive, most of which was about myself. In order to captivate you, the audience members, I must distinguish myself from all of the other speakers that will stand before you today. To most effectively do so, I decided to compose a speech that is personal, specific to myself, while at the same time is interesting and relatable to you all, my fellow South Carolinians. At the end, feel free to render your assessment of my performance.
Ever since I was a child, I could always describe myself as, if nothing else, different. In more ways than a few, I could distinguish myself from those around me. My attitude, my work ethic, as well as my habits were never what they “ought” to be. For example, your typical seven-year-old darts home from elementary school with a prodigious anticipation to throw down the back-pack that has for far too many hours restrained his energy and playful nature, exchanging it for the basketball, football, or soccer ball of freedom. Being that I was never your typical anything, I came home, calmly sat at the large dining room table, and pulled out the homework. With equal excitement, I dribbled the point of my pencil on the free throw lines of the paper until I achieved my own goal. After which, of course, I would run outside and join my fellow playmates.
Believe it or not there is purpose to my personal anecdote. To say that the Constitution is the driving factor behind my dedication to school is far from the truth. My story was merely an analogy for what the Constitution means to me. Because of this document, unique solely to the United States of America, we have the power to defy the derogatory stereotypes, to stupefy the skeptics of progress, and to become more than ever was thought possible. Why? Because the U.S. Constitution embodies the epitome of both possibility and opportunity while also promoting equality.
For evidence of such, I look to the words of a phrase to which not one of us is a stranger. Whether you are a fan of your crime shows such as Law and Order, NCIS, and Criminal Minds, or whether you are familiar with the law and your rights according to it, we all know our Miranda rights: “you have the right…to remain silent”…it goes on to say “you have the right…to an attorney”. And in no more than these two lines recited to us by the enforcers of the law, there is great reason to celebrate the U.S. Constitution. Let us first consider the circumstances under which one might hear these words. Typically, one who is being accused of committing a crime will hear these words upon his or her arrest. Regardless of crime, sex, race, ethnicity, income or any other detail about the person or their life, he or she will hear these words. From those facts, I have concluded that the U.S. Constitution is blind to all discriminatory factors that may influence and even control society in other countries. For example, one might be a CEO or a minimum wage employee; however, both citizens are treated with equity according to their rights under the Constitution. Those rights are treasures guaranteed to you and me alike by the Constitution—treasures whose value can neither be duplicated nor exchanged. That in each of us rests an indubitable and permanent wealth, guaranteed to us by the constitution, is certainly a treasure of which to be proud; that fact, in and of itself, warrants celebration.
Perhaps one of the most enduring and outstanding features of the Constitution is that which its ratification rested upon in the 18th century: the Bill of Rights. Fearful of the creation of another monarchy, many states were unwilling to accept the Constitution without a personal guarantee to all citizens that the tyranny that once plagued the colonies would not, and ultimately could not, return; thus, the Bill of Rights. The first ten amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights explicitly states many of the rights we as the people have such as the freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, the freedom of religion, etc. However, I believe that far more merit rests in the rights and freedoms implied throughout the constitution. Sure expression of ideas and religion and the like are extremely important, but where and who would we be without the pursuit of the American Dream; without the innumerable tales of from rags to riches? Because of the Constitution, we have the right to go to sleep a dreamer and awake an innovator, studying the past, creating today, and improving tomorrow. Just ask people like the late Steve Jobs, Max Drucker, and Bill Riker, just to name a few.
It is obvious to me that no enlightenment thinker, philosopher, Federalist, or Anti-Federalist, Democrat, or Republican could have foreseen the rise to the status of world power upon which the United States was destined to embark, and yet, here we are. Here we are in the nation that has historically turned heads, set trends and precedents, and inspired many others. Here we are in the great United States of America, whose mere 13 colonies had the power—nay, the tenacity—to defeat and overcome the tyrannical and oppressive rule of none other than the then world power—Great Britain. Here we are breathing the air of liberty that encompasses every home on every road, way, and avenue; that rushes through every city of every state, at such a pace as to create a harmonious chorus of liberty that still, today, rings of distinct freedom like no other, to be found nowhere else in the world.
Here we are.
Well, I have neared the time in my speech at which any typical high school student might choose to insert a profound maxim from great thinkers such as Aristotle, Socrates, Thomas Jefferson, John Locke, anyone whose name would increase the ethos of the speech. I, however, refuse to take the easy way out and leave you with a personal belief that Google can’t yet give you access to:
The sole factor that separates the U.S. Constitution from any other document—any other collection of words, symbols, and characters known to man—is that which cannot be found within its contents but rather in you, the people. To your left and to your right, surrounding you in and outside of this great building, is a multitude of people who are destined to redefine possibilities and transcend the arbitrary notion of boundaries. That factor provided by the Constitution and found in each of us…is destiny. We the people, American citizens who live by and die by the U.S. Constitution are destined for things not yet imagined by humankind—destined for nothing short of utter greatness.
Senior, Dutch Fork High School