A banner hangs inside Middlebury Union High School announcing that the three graduated Connor sisters are state champions of The American Legion Department of Vermont’s Oratorical Contest. All sponsored by Post 27, the three girls – Samantha (30), Brooke (28) and Erin (22) – also claimed a spot in the National Oratorical Contest in Indianapolis during their high school years, where Brooke earned a third-place finish in the 2010 competition and Erin was one of nine competitors who advanced to the semifinal round in 2013.
The Oratorical program has continued to play a role in Erin’s life past high school – the public speaking, diction and poise she learned from the program helped in her efforts of recently being crowned Miss Vermont.
“I’m still on cloud nine (from the win),” said Erin, an Auxiliary Unit 27 member who has her pilot's license and is a recent graduate from the University of Vermont.
Prior to her crowning achievement – one that she has been working toward for three years – Erin helped judge the Department of Vermont’s 2017 Oratorical Contest and coached participants on their public speaking skills.
“I love The American Legion’s Oratorical program because I’m a true believer in education and it educates about your rights, voting, and duties one can do as a citizen, and how it’s important to get involved in your communities,” Erin said. “I love that aspect of the program because it really teaches our youth to get involved.”
Erin is currently preparing for the Miss America competition in September by training at the gym, practicing public speaking and interview skills, making public appearances, and volunteering at the Vermont Children’s Hospital. “I’m doing my best to prepare because I want to make a big splash at Miss America,” she said.
Erin recently spoke with The American Legion about her participation in the Oratorical Contest and how it prepared her for winning the Miss Vermont title.
The American Legion: What did you like about the Oratorical Contest that kept you involved?
Erin Connor: (The Oratorical Contest) has been a part of my family for 15 or 16 years, whether it’s been competing, judging or just being there in the audience. It’s such a great program and it gives you so many scholarships.
And I really like the aspect that it challenged me to get up in front of people and speak. Until I participated in the Oratorical program I didn’t know everything about the Constitution. I didn’t know a lot about our history, the bill of rights or the amendments … it really taught me everything I needed to know about the Constitution, our history and our founding. We live in this great nation but a lot of people can’t even pass the citizenship test. I can do it with flying colors and I really attribute that to the Oratorical program.
What was the most challenging part of the program?
Connor: Getting up in front of people and having a speech memorized. I started working on my speeches in the summer even though the contest wasn’t until January because I wanted to make sure I had everything down. I started my research really early on and I started out with a 20-page paper and narrowed it down to the eight to 10-minute mark. Then I started memorizing it and putting in my fluctuation of my voice and what I was going to do with my hands so it really taught me discipline because I started early on.
How has the Oratorical Contest helped with your poise and diction during beauty competitions?
Connor: During my competitions for the Miss Vermont title, there has been a private interview, swimsuit, talent, evening gown and onstage questions. Interview and onstage questions tend to be one of the hardest areas because you’re public speaking and you need to be quick on your feet and articulate your words very eloquently. And I really believe that I was able to do that because of the Oratorical program; I wasn’t afraid to get up in front of people and talk or answer a question. I felt prepared and I believe that was because I practiced that public speaking for years doing Oratorical.
What is your platform on as you prepare for the Miss America competition?
Connor: It’s called Tailwinds: Training a new generation of women scientist. I really focus on encouraging young women into the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) field. It’s really important that we get women involved, specifically in aviation because that’s where my expertise is. So I go around to schools and I talk about my journey and what women can do to get into this field. We need more women into the STEM field, specifically engineering and aviation, because we are going to get amazing results in research, medicine and technology. So I really encourage young women to get involved in those fields.
Why do you feel it’s important for high school youth to participate in the Legion’s Oratorical Contest?
Connor: We live in a technology-driven society so I really want people to get back to the basics of how our country was formed. And it was formed because these men risked their lives to make a structure of our country and that living document – because it is a living document – is still very relevant in today’s society. We still need to take time and honor these people who made our country as great as it is.
I’m a big supporter of this competition … I always will be. It’s great that our future generations are still getting involved to learn how about how our nation was created and I love that about it.