Jennifer Sikorski, Winooski High School (Winner)

Ever since the Declaration of Independence was signed, the United States has constantly paved the way to peace and prosperity both for itself and the rest of the world. However, as the world economy rapidly disintegrates, new issues have emerged, from unemployment to the environment to gay rights, and in the midst of it all, America stands still, seemingly oblivious to the fact that its future is crumbling in front of it. It is time to pave the way to prosperity once again through these issues in order to ensure that someday we can thrive again.

Perhaps the biggest problem we face as a nation is unemployment. As of 2011, 8.5 percent of people in the U.S. - over 26 million Americans - are jobless. While it may seem as if putting such a large amount of people to work cannot happen, there is a chance that it can be done. As unemployment has been rising, the condition of our environment has been deteriorating due to deforestation and the emissions of greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide given off by the use of fossil fuels. Renewable energy such as solar and wind power, on the other hand, has remained a topic of interest, yet it is still somehow largely unavailable to the public. However,

the environment can be preserved, if not improved, by phasing out fossil fuels in favor of solar and wind energy, while millions of Americans can return to work to plant trees to restore our forests and to build, distribute, and repair solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewable energy products. We are actually lucky in a way to have to face both of these issues at once, as they can both be improved simultaneously.

America has also had a long-standing tradition of leading the way in human rights, with such important movements such as women's suffrage and civil rights abolishing discrimination based on gender and race. There is no reason why this tradition should not continue with gay rights as well. Currently, only seven states in the entire country allow same-sex marriage, and I am proud to live in one of the few states that has begun to lead the way. I have many friends and relatives that consider themselves gay or bisexual and are actively involved in the LGBT community, and I have witnessed their struggles as they have realized that many are intolerant of their lifestyles. The entire country should follow Vermont's example and legalize same-sex marriage to continue to encourage not only the rights of certain groups of people, but the rights of everyone.

In conclusion, the challenges that we face with unemployment, the environment, and gay rights are just some of the challenges that, when dealt with appropriately, will make our country stronger and greater than before. Though our current situation looks bleak, we can always work towards goals such as these that will help make America and the world a better place.

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