To participate in the competition, high school students are invited to come listen to the speakers and then submit essays that could win them scholarships for college. The first, second and third place winners are awarded $1,000, $500 and $250.
"It's a great opportunity for students, not just to get the money award," said Councilwoman Karen Stepper, president of the club. "We think that also the fact that they participated in a forum like this will look good on college resumes."
Five students, Vicki Hsieh, Miso Ghim, Emma Grager, Cameron Lee and Amanda Swenson, came to hear Monday's speaker, District Attorney Bob Kochly.
They sat up front taking notes and snacking on peanuts and bottled water as Kochly spoke about this year's competition topic: Understanding the 10th Amendment.
The "Reserved Powers" amendment, which deals with how power is divided between federal and state governments, is a topic Kochly said he was very familiar with.
"Ninety-nine percent of the crimes in the United States are prosecuted by the state, under state law," Kochly explained to his audience. "The federal government saves its resources for cases that it thinks are important or big enough."
Exchange Club, so named for the "exchange" of ideas it aims to promote, is a national service club. The San Ramon Valley chapter was started two years ago by Stepper and is comprised of veterans, business people and government officials in the area.
Stepper said for the competition the club chose local speakers who would be able to talk about "things that actually happen in our valley, that we think the students can relate to."
As an alternative to writing about the speakers, students can get inspiration for their essays from "Freedom Shrines" in the area. San Ramon Valley High School has a full display, and one is being installed today at Monte Vista High School. There is a smaller shrine at the Danville Public Library.
"We want people to understand them," said Stepper about the documents in the Freedom Shrines. "These documents are so rich with things that people are very familiar with, but not familiar enough to use the principals involved to solve current problems. It's a link between the past and what we do today."
To participate in the essay competition, students must go hear at least three speakers. (The first few speakers were taped for late-joiners.) The next up, Gen. Ron Lowe, will be at the Veterans Hall at 6 p.m., Monday, March 3.
The competition is judged by members of the Exchange Club. The deadline to submit essays is in April.
The Freedom Shrines provided by the Exchange Club are displays of famous historical documents like the Bill of Rights, Gettysburg Address, Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech or President Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you" inaugural address.
In 1947, shortly after World War II ended, President Truman thought Americans ought to take a moment to reflect on the founding principles of their country. So the government compiled dozens of "documents of liberty" and put them on a "Freedom Train," which toured around the nation.
The idea morphed, over time, into the Freedom Shrines. Authenticated copies of the documents were made in the late 1940s and displays were put up throughout the country.