Samantha Swanson wins MCBA high school speech contest, heads to college with $2000 scholarship


(On the left) Samantha Swanson, MCBA’s winner of the High School speech contest and $2000 Scholarship; (on the right) Swanson presenting her speech, from memory, to the audience at the MCBA 2014 Law Day Program.

By Diana L. Coleman
Legal News

Ravenna High School senior Samantha Swanson scored the prize and won the Muskegon County Bar Association’s high school speech contest at the 2014 Law Day program.

Twenty-five seniors from area high schools competed in the contest, students from Ravenna, Calvary Christian, Muskegon Catholic, West Michigan Christian, Mona Shores, Muskegon, Hesperia, Montague, Holton, North Muskegon, Reeths-Puffer, Career Tech Center, and Fruitport competed for this year’s scholarship award. This is the largest group to submit entries for the speech contest in recent MCBA history.  The scholarship is a generous $2000 to be sent directly to the college of the winning senior.

Judges of this year’s high school speech contest were the Honorable Michael Nolan; attorney John McKendry; and D.J. Hilson, Muskegon County Prosecutor and immediate past president of the bar association. Judges listened to all 25 entrants present their speeches just before the Law Day program began and selected the top four entries.  The second place $1000 scholarship went to Kathryn Beemer of Mona Shores High School. Landon Fortenberry of Reeths-Puffer High School won third place and a $500 scholarship, and the fourth place $250 scholarship was given to Alex Weglarz of Holton High School.

Swanson, an energetic young lady with a great big smile, presented her speech to the Law Day audience completely from memory (with no helpful notes on the podium).  “I didn’t realize that I was going to be in front at the podium and microphone to present my speech,” said Swanson.  “I thought I would be walking around in front of the group and I got a little nervous when I saw the podium. I thought ‘go big, or go home’ and I just left my notes at the table.” There was no need for Swanson to worry; she never hesitated or skipped a beat giving her speech.

Swanson is a member of the Ravenna Swanson Pickle Farm Swansons and learned a great work ethic from an early age. “We started out when we were little working the roadside stand,” said Swanson.  “Now I work on the docks making and testing the brine. I have worked every summer since I was ten years old.”

Swanson is also busy with school activities. She serves on the student council, National Honor Society, BPA, and FFA, and competes in cross country, track, and bowling. Swanson graduated with a 4.0 GPA and as Valedictorian; she spoke at the commencement ceremony for her class of 61 students. Swanson is very active with her youth group at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and has spent many years doing mission work with the group.

Her hobbies include horseback riding, reading, running, kayaking, and going to the beach in Grand Haven. “My mom’s parents have a condo in Grand Haven,” said Swanson. “My dad just loves it there and it’s a big change from the Ravenna area. I am working on learning to surf.”

Swanson will be attending Brigham Young University-Hawaii this fall studying hospitality, tourism, and business management. “I enjoy serving people and that it would be a good area to go into,” said Swanson. “I job-shadowed at the Grand Rapids Marriott hotel and really enjoyed it.” When asked about going far away to college, “I think my parents are letting me go so they can come and visit,” said Swanson. “I will come home for Christmas and summer, but after this winter I am looking forward to the climate in Hawaii.  I would like to work for Disney and I am going to learn lots of languages and travel. I am currently working on learning Hawaiian.”

The American Bar Association’s 2014 Lay Day theme was “The American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters,”  Swanson has granted the Muskegon County Legal News permission to publish her winning speech.

Imagine you’re in a high school class and are taking the last exam of the year. You studied all night, and you’re confident that you’ll ace it easy. The test lands in front of you and you immediately scribble your name at the top. You glance around the room and notice that the person next to you is cheating. Raising your hand, you exclaim, “This person isn’t being fair!”  But the teacher denies it’s happening and insists cheating is a normal part of school; you should just accept it. Seem unfair? Now picture yourself at the polls. You did your research and are ready to make your vote count! But the person you were sure deserves to win doesn’t, all because of fraud. Voting fraud is a real problem that both sides agree needs to be eliminated if our election system is to stay the credible, trustworthy program it’s known as. Americans deserve to have a voice, but their voice should not be drowned out by fraud; voting needs to be simple, but cheating needs to be difficult.

In order to eliminate voting fraud, photo IDs, like this one, need to be required at the polls.  Florida election officials recently confirmed that 2600 registered voters were in fact not U.S. citizens. And in the 2010 election in Texas, 239 cases of dead people casting votes were documented. Either the zombie apocalypse has begun, or voter fraud is a genuine threat. Critics say that fraud isn’t a big enough problem to waste time and money on, but let me tell you a secret about fraud: it’s not meant to be found. We will never be able to track down everyone that has committed it, and there is no way to know what impact it has had.

But critics claim these new voter ID laws are discriminatory and would make 21 million elderly, minority, and low-income American unable to vote. The truth is, these groups tend to vote Democratic, and many left-side liberals see voter ID as a direct hit to their supporting voters; so, they refuse to see it as the necessary protection that it is. An analysis taken by Reuters from 20,000 people found that those lacking proper ID were less likely to vote anyway regardless of state law changes. And among those who said they were certain to vote, only 1 percent said they did not have proper voting ID.

Even if they do not have ID, would it be that difficult to obtain it? Attorney General Eric Holder insists that those without IDs would struggle to pay for them. However, the Supreme Court has determined any state which implements voter ID laws is required to provide the ID and the documents needed to obtain it at no cost. But if getting an ID is still too difficult, voters have another option. Those without ID on Election Day can fill out a provisional ballot. These ballots will be counted and treated like any other; the only difference is they must be verified first through cross-referencing. Even voters without IDs have the chance to cast a ballot, so voter ID laws do not need to have any effect on voter turnout. Unless of course, those previously voting come to the realization they have been doing so illegally.

Photo IDs are needed everywhere—to drive a car, take the ACT test, even to enter the federal building where this topic is being discussed! Isn’t voting more important? Fraud needs to be intimidating, difficult, impossible even, while voting itself needs to be simple. This is a difficult thing to balance, but I know that by enacting voter ID laws, our polls will be a more trustworthy, reliable place where Americans can go to make their voice heard clearly.

Swanson is excited to go to college in Hawaii, and expressed apprecation for the scholarship given to her by the Muskegon County Bar Association. Happy surfing, Samantha.