Revolutionary rhetoric

Local high schoolers invoke Spirit of ‘76 in oratory competition

Lowell Hoffman is chairman of the North Carolina Rumbaugh Oration Contest, acting as the event’s organizer, showrunner and historian.
Lowell Hoffman is chairman of the North Carolina Rumbaugh Oration Contest, acting as the event’s organizer, showrunner and historian.
Denny Colvin / SAR

CHAPEL HILL – Two years shy of the 250th anniversary of 1776, nine high school students from around North Carolina gathered over the weekend at Chatham County’s Governor's Club to honor the founding fathers with short oratories of their own creation.

The Joseph S. Rumbaugh Historical Oration Contest, named after its benefactor and put on by the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, asks students to write, memorize, and deliver a five-minute speech about an event, personality, or document related to the Revolutionary War.

Judged on composition, delivery, significance, and history, the competitors spoke articulately and passionately, invoking the essence of America’s national identity, indomitable spirit, and enduring legacy of liberty and independence.

Subjects varied widely, including the tale of revolutionary war heroine Sybil Ludington, who rode a Revere-esque 40 miles on horseback to alert colonial militias of the burning of Danbury, Connecticut, by the Redcoats, or Bernardo De Galvez, a Spanish ally who was instrumental in winning the war on the Gulf Coast.

The contest, held this past Saturday, featured members from two N.C. Sons of the American Revolution chapters, including Chatham County’s General Francis Nash Chapter, which includes Chapel Hill, and the Raleigh Chapter.

Brooks Bae, a Northwood High sophomore, placed second overall for his fiery oration “Blame Europe.” Telling a tale of a centuries-long toxic relationship with our colonial forefathers, Bae closed his dramatic speech:

Since the French-Indian War and the American Revolution, Cupid’s arrows have pierced the hearts of America and Europe. This fateful relationship has been toxic, where America has been taken advantage of for its resources, for its money, and for its power. The American Revolution should have overwritten our national subservience to Europe, but the toxicity lingers. Even so, perhaps Cupid’s attention is not misguided; maybe if America and Europe could move towards a mutually respectful relationship, we could create an international landscape of economic growth and global safety.

Now, that’s worth a revolution.

Francisco Forrester of Durham’s Riverside High School placed second within the Chatham Chapter for his engaging account of Bernardo De Galvez’s heroic campaign, which saw him capture the British ports of Pensacola, Mobile, Biloxi, and Natchez with a pair of ships and just 500 men.

Other Chatham County participants included Seaforth High School students Joshua Miller and Aria Browndyke. Miller delivered a poignant treatise on the American legacy of never giving up, while Browndyke opined on the precious power held by the young, both during the revolution and continuing today.

Others spoke of sacrifice and the power of unity against tyranny. Timothy Histler, a senior homeschooled student from Raleigh, won first place for eloquently highlighting the achievements and contributions of John Dickenson, the “Penman of the Revolution."

Blessed with intellect, patriotism, and unwavering personal convictions, Histler told the crowd of about 70 parents, judges, and SAR members, “John Dickinson was a man who used those qualities to contribute greatly to the American cause and should challenge us to emulate his characteristics in our world today. In a country that is so often fractured, unifying influences like John Dickenson bring an antidote to the disease of division.”

He went on, urging, like in Washington’s farewell address, that we not “fall victim to the polarization that affects the United States today. Instead, we must look to Dickinson, who used his persuasiveness with the pen to unify the colonists. The United States that we know and love will only remain prominent if we join hand-in-hand with fellow Americans, saying, ‘United We Stand, Divided We Fall.’ Let us follow the example of John Dickinson and be the solution to the disease of division.”

As the statewide winner, Histler takes home a $750 prize, a medal, and will get to present his oration and at the State SAR Assembly Youth Awards Luncheon in Greensboro on April 6.

Chatham’s Lowell Hoffman heads the North Carolina Rumbaugh event and was instrumental in bringing it to Chatham County and the General Francis Nash Chapter.

With a Trebek-like cadence, Hoffman kept attendees entertained with brief lessons between orations, addressing everything from the Boston Tea Party to William Pitt.

“I see this contest as giving the gift of confidence in public speaking,” Hoffman said while acting as the event’s organizer, showrunner, and historian. “By participating, writing, researching, memorizing, and delivering an oration, each student will have made progress in developing skills and confidence in expressing ideas and seeking to influence others.”

The 2023 winner, UNC Chapel Hill freshman Aliza Jankowsky, returned to congratulate the orators and gave a short speech expressing appreciation for the contest, her experience, and its positive impact on the community.

Also in attendance were two influential and active teachers in Rumbaugh Oratory, English and Speech Teacher Jill Thomas of Northwood High School and Riley Shaner of Seaforth High School. Thomas, “the teacher you wish you had had in high school” according to her students, pushed the administration and school board to launch the speech class that’s been running for a half-decade. Each year, she encourages her top students to enter the competition.

Not coincidentally, Shaner, a former student of Thomas’, was herself a state winner and placed 2nd at the National Assembly in Costa Mesa, CA, winning $4,000. She had two students competing in a “Pass it On” story of mentorship, dedication, and commitment to teaching.

The National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and teaching American history to future generations.

The General Francis Nash Chapter, chartered in 1928, honors the commander of North Carolina’s regiments who served under General George Washington in 1777 at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown, where a British cannonball mortally wounded Nash. For more, visit