This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website.
Seven score and 12 years ago, then President Abraham Lincoln gave a speech in the little town of Gettysburg which was shorter than two minutes in length, but left such a resounding impression that his words continue to echo through history.
In West Chester, the Gettysburg Address becomes a fun-filled contest for middle school students.
“There has been a Gettysburg Address contest as part of the Old-Fashioned Christmas in West Chester, which is sponsored by a number of different organizations in and around West Chester,” said Tom Swift, the iHistory coordinator at Fugett Middle School. “They take students from middle schools and have them compete in the contest.”
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Eighth graders are mostly the ones who participate since that year typically coincides with teaching about the American Civil War.
The competition entails each participant to recite, from memory, the entire Gettysburg Address from the Lincoln Room on Market Street.
“There are usually seven students that compete at the Lincoln Room in town where they have to dramatically recite the Gettysburg Address,” Swift said.
The competitors even don the beard and top hot to complete the look.
“They either dress up as Mary Todd Lincoln or Abraham Lincoln,” Swift said.
From the seven competitors, the top three are chosen and receive cash prizes, as well as the best costume.
Others receive a participation prize.
This year’s first place winner was Kyle Puchalla from Fugett and second went to Vikram Chodapaneedi of Peirce. St. Agnes’ Raquel Lacusky took third. Chodapaneedi also won best costume.
“Everybody gets something,” Swift said. “They always have awards. The first place winner usually gets $300, so it’s tempting for students to try and compete in it.”
The students aren’t on their own as the teachers will lend a hand along the way.
“I can’t speak for St. Agnes or Saints Peter and Paul, but I know at Peirce and Fugett, the kids — for the better part of the end of October through November — every day at lunch come in and practice,” Swift said.
The competition, which is now 17 years old, is sure to continue in West Chester and will hopefully continue to in-spire the students who participate into understanding the words Lincoln once said during such a tumultuous part of United States history.
“What I think is most impressive is watching the students recite it with such a dramatic flair and understanding of the speech,” Swift said. “It gives you goosebumps. I think anybody can have it memorized, but to understand the speech is what separates the students who can do it really well and students that don’t do it quite as well. It is such an important speech in our nation’s history.
“The speech talks about who we were in the past as a country, who we are at the present – and when I say the pre-sent, I mean 1863 – and then it talks about the future and future vision of America. When students get that and can make that connection, it’s pretty impressive.”