State of the Union

With President Barack Obama set to deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders announced the winner and top finalists in his annual State of the Union essay contest for Vermont high school students.  A panel of four Vermont teachers judged the essays and selected Caroline Braun, a junior at Champlain Valley Union High School, as the winner. “There is no simple cure for the abundant issues plaguing our nation,” Braun wrote. “Not only are we recovering from a recession, but we also are confronting challenges related to climate change, health care, and education. As a world leader and role model for democracy and peace, we need initiatives that not only connect people and communities, but also ones that will act as catalysts for change.”

Emily Ellsworth, a junior at Colchester High School, finished second in the essay contest. Genevieve Chiola, a freshman at Mt. Abraham Union High School, finished in third place. In addition to the top three essays, 21 essays were selected as finalists. 

Altogether, more than 300 high school students from dozens of high schools throughout Vermont submitted essays on what they consider the major issues facing the United States and how they view the state of the union.

 “I am pleased that we had more students participating this year than last,” Sanders said. “I hope, in the years to come, the number of students and schools that participate continue to grow. We need our young people to be engaged, to help find solutions for the problems that confront us, and to think about the future of our country. This is what democracy is all about.”

“I’m so impressed with the essays. Every year they get better,” said Terri Vest, who teaches at Plainfield’s Twinfield Union School and has served as a judge in Sanders’ essay contest each year. “It went all the way from personal narrative to formal papers – and they were wonderful.”

Sanders will enter the essays of the winner and the finalists into the Congressional Record. The finalists will also have the opportunity to participate in a roundtable discussion with Sanders to discuss the issues they wrote about in their essays. The roundtable has been scheduled for March 9 at South Burlington High School.

The U.S. Constitution calls for the president to “give to the Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” For the last three years, as the president prepares his State of the Union speech, Sanders’ essay contest has asked Vermont’s high school students to write an essay of 250 words to 500 words about their view of the “state of the union.”

In the three years Sanders has held the contest, more than 850 students from schools throughout Vermont have written essays addressing such important issues as the declining middle class, climate change, gun control, health care reform and the rising cost of a college education. 

The top three essays and the finalists for this year’s essay contest are listed below.

Winner: Caroline Braun, 11th grade, Champlain Valley Union High School
Second Place: Emily Ellsworth, 11th grade, Colchester High School
Third Place: Genevieve Chiola, 9th grade, Mt. Abraham Union High School


Finalists (in alphabetical order) 

  • Sydney Alderman, Mt. Abraham Union High School
  • Annie Arthur, Woodstock Union High School
  • Jeannine Bissonette, Champlain Valley Union High School
  • Jonah Blatt, Milton High School
  • Tyler Bradley, South Burlington High School
  • Allie Bull, Champlain Valley Union High School
  • Emma Davitt, Champlain Valley Union High School
  • Taryn Druge, Champlain Valley Union High School
  • Riley Forbes, Mt. Abraham Union High School
  • Damon Fulcher, South Royalton High School
  • Benjamin Gilbert, Milton High School
  • Liam Hayes, Vergennes Union High
  • Christie Kershaw, South Burlington High School
  • Sonia Lowen, Champlain Valley Union High School
  • Alexandra McFarland, Woodstock Union High School
  • Rachel Moore, South Royalton High School
  • Derryk O'Grady, Milton High School
  • Saleban Olow, Winooski High School
  • Robert Pennypacker, St. Johnsbury Academy
  • Rebecca Potter, Brattleboro Union High School
  • Austin Price, Mt. Anthony Union High School

Read the winning essays at http://www.sanders.senate.gov/stateoftheunion/ or by clicking here.

What is the state of the union?