US Sen Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) announced the winners of his tenth annual State of the Union Essay contest, which gives Vermont high school students an opportunity to describe which issues they would prioritize if they were president.
Over the past 10 years, more than 4,600 students throughout Vermont, representing almost every high school, have written essays about critically important issues, including climate change, gun safety, immigration, political polarization, access to mental health care, the rising cost of college and more. This year, 536 students from 41 Vermont high schools submitted 250-500 word essays — climate change and health care were the two topics most frequently written about in the student essays. A panel of six Vermont teachers served as volunteer judges, scoring the essays and choosing the 12 finalists and three winners.
Isabelle Hiller, a junior at Woodstock Union High School, won this year's contest with an essay about our criminal justice system. "We have one of the highest prison populations in the world," Hiller wrote. "Unless we plan to incarcerate all convicts for life, our approach to detainment should shift from 'prison' to 'rehabilitation', focusing on equipping prisoners with the skills to be mentally stable and financially and lawfully successful."
Lucas Whitaker, a sophomore at Hazen Union High School, is the second place winner. Lucas wrote about youth suicide and mental health care access. "One of the biggest issues in America today is the mental health crisis in our youth. In society today as a whole mental health is a touchy topic. But with proper approach, these conversations can be normalized so that people are comfortable asking for help without being faced with stereotypes or fear of judgement," Whitaker wrote.
Maya Marcy, a junior at Long Trail School, is the third place winner with an essay on the cost of college. "Accessibility to attend a post-high school institution continues to prove difficult for not only marginalized groups, but also students from the middle class," Marcy wrote. "Every young adult has the right to a deserving and fulfilling academic career, regardless of their upbringing. We must realize now that the only way to fix the education system is to approach it as an economic matter," Marcy concluded.
"I'm thrilled students from all across Vermont participated in this year's essay contest," said Sanders, who serves on the Senate education committee. "Over the past ten years students have written about issues that are not only affecting their lives, but our communities, our country and our planet. I created this contest not as a homework assignment, but because we need our students to help find solutions for the problems that face our country as they are our future leaders."
Sanders has invited the 15 finalists to be interviewed about their essay topic so their voices and perspectives can be included in his official videos and social media. Sanders will also enter the essays of the finalists into the Congressional Record — the official archive of the U.S. Congress.
Since Sanders began the State of the Union essay contest in 2010, many of the issues raised by Vermont's students are still relevant today. "Unfortunately, I'm not surprised that year after year many of the students are writing about the same major issues. This contest reminds us that we have a lot of work to do — however, it is heartening to know that so many young people are thinking about the issues, standing up and making their voices heard and engaging in the political process," said Sanders. The contest is timed to coincide with the president's State of the Union address, which took place on February 4th.
The winners and finalists for this year's essay contest are:
Winner: Isabelle Hiller (Woodstock Union High School, Junior)
Second Place: Lucas Whitaker (Hazen Union High School, Sophomore)
Third Place: Maya Marcy (Long Trail School, Junior)
Finalists (in alphabetical order):
Hussein Amuri (Winooksi High School); Maely Brightman (St. Johnsbury Academy, Sophomore); Isabelle Chen (Oxbow High School, Freshman); Samuel Dooley (Milton High School, Senior); Meredith Jackson (Burlington High School, Freshman); Caleb Matosky (Rice Memorial High School, Junior); Ethan Mello (Woodstock Union High School, Junior); Salama Mbilizi (Winooski High School, Junior); Patrick Meskill (Essex High School, Junior); Madelyn Trimpi (Woodstock Union High School, Junior); Griffin Waryas (Bellows Falls Union High School, Senior); Kyle Wilkin (Missisquoi Valley Union High School, Junior)
To read the essays of the finalists and winners, click here.