Sanders Announces Finalists of State of the Union Essay Contest

BURLINGTON, Vt., Jan. 11 – With President Barack Obama set to deliver his State of the Union address tomorrow evening, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today announced 20 finalists in his annual State of the Union essay contest for Vermont high school students. A record number of Vermont high schools and students participated in Sanders’ contest this year.

This year, 799 students from 39 Vermont high schools wrote essays of 250 words to 500 words detailing their own view of the state of the union. That’s a substantial increase from last year when 454 students from 27 schools wrote essays for the senator’s contest. 

A panel of five Vermont teachers reviewed the submitted essays over the weekend and selected 20 finalist essays. The winner of the contest will be announced in the coming days.

Sanders’ State of the Union essay contest is an opportunity for Vermont students to articulate what issues they would prioritize if they were president of the United States. “I am pleased the number of schools and students participating throughout Vermont has continued to rise,” said Sanders, who serves on the Senate education committee. “There is no shortage of challenges facing the United States. Our students are the future of our country and they must be involved in the discussion about the direction we need to go.”

To honor their accomplishments, each of the finalists’ essays will be entered into the Congressional Record -- the official archive of the United States Senate and House of Representatives.

“In education today, we talk about assessment. This is one of the most authentic assessments a teacher can give her students. Sen. Sanders has given them a real-life question and they have wrestled with real-life problems and solutions,” said Terri Vest, who teaches at Plainfield’s Twinfield Union School and has served as a judge in Sanders’ essay contest since the first year the contest was held. 

The 20 finalists for this year’s Sate of the Union essay contest are listed below.

Finalists (in alphabetical order: name, school, grade)

  • Faryal Afsar, Mount Mansfield Union High School, 11
  • Megan Bromley, Milton High School, 12
  • Mikayla Clarke, Bellows Falls Union High School, 12
  • Maddie Collins, Champlain Valley Union High School, 11
  • Olivier Enwa, Winooski High School, 12
  • Adam Fleischman, South Burlington High School, 12
  • Ellery Harkness, Champlain Valley Union High School, 11
  • Meredith Holbrook, Milton High School, 12
  • Vivian Huang, South Burlington High School, 12
  • Megan Hughes, Canaan Memorial High School, 11
  • Tori Jarvis, Missisquoi Valley Union High School, 11
  • Alexis Manchester, Green Mountain Technology and Career Center, 11
  • Sara Manfredi, Milton High School, 12
  • William Martin, Mount Abraham Union High School, 9
  • Hadley Menk, Champlain Valley Union High School, 11
  • Sophia Parker, Vergennes Union High School, 11
  • Ryan Racicot, Milton High School, 12
  • Nick Sears, Vermont Commons School, 12
  • Paige Thibault, Champlain Valley Union High School, 9
  • Peter Unger, Champlain Valley Union High School, 12

With each passing year, schools throughout Vermont are finding creative ways to incorporate Sanders’ State of the Union essay contest into their school’s curriculum. 

At Rutland High School, alone, 240 students in the 9th grade wrote essays for Sanders’ State of the Union Essay Contest. “The contest aligned perfectly with the philosophy of Rutland High School, that our learning must include a real-world purpose,” Rutland High School Principal Bill Olsen said.  “Our STEM and Global Studies concentrations ask students to confront some of the pressing issues facing our world, our nation, and our local community.  Sen. Sanders provided us with what is truly an authentic assessment.”

In addition to the dozens of schools throughout the state, three essays were received from young Vermonters at the Woodside Juvenile Rehab Center in Colchester.

During the six years Sanders has held his State of the Union essay contest, roughly 2,400 students from schools throughout Vermont have written essays on a wide range of important issues, including: the declining middle class, climate change, gun control, the national debt, the need to raise the minimum wage, health care reform, and the rising cost of a college education.