Sanders Announces Winners of State of the Union Essay Contest

BURLINGTON, Vt., Jan. 25 – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Wednesday announced the winners of his annual State of the Union essay contest. Sanders’ contest gives Vermont high school students an opportunity to articulate which issues they would prioritize if they were president.

A panel of six Vermont teachers served as volunteer judges in Sanders’ annual essay contest. They selected Quinn Nelson Mayo, a junior at St. Johnsbury Academy, as the winner of the contest. Mayo focused on the importance of media literacy. Sanders called the winner earlier this week to inform her that she had won.

“While the internet embodies our nation’s core value of freedom, it can also be detrimental to another vital aspect of our society: educated and well-informed citizens,” Mayo writes.

“By teaching America’s youth how to approach sources impartially and critically, we can fix this problem of misinformation,” Mayo concludes. “Integrating media literacy as a required course at elementary and high-school levels is an investment in our future generations.”

Musa Mayange, a senior at Winooski High School, is the second place winner. Mayange wrote about racism in the United States. A.J. DeFelice, a freshman at Hartford High School, is the third place winner. DeFelice wrote about climate change, immigration, and income inequality. 

In addition to the top three essays, 17 finalists were named. Each of the top essay writers and the finalists will be invited to join Sanders for a roundtable discussion at the Statehouse in Montpelier on Saturday, Feb. 4 to discuss the issues they wrote about in their essays.

“For our democracy to work, students must be engaged on the challenges facing our country. As is always the case, I am impressed by the wide range of issues our students wrote about this year,” said Sanders, who serves on the Senate education committee. “While there is no shortage of obstacles facing the United States, it is heartening to see so many young Vermonters thinking about the direction we need to go as a nation.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday invited President Donald Trump to address a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28. 

The finalists for this year’s essay contest were:

- Finn Abbey, Mount Mansfield Union High School (Freshman)
- Emily Ballou, South Royalton High School (Senior)
- Billy Bender, Hanover High School (Sophomore)
- Simon Bupp-Chickering, Bellows Falls Union High School (Senior)
- Emma Carlson, St. Johnsbury Academy (Junior)
- Mason Charlebois, Vergennes Union High School (Junior)
- Rainbow Chen, Winooski High School (Senior)
- Jessica Daigle, Oxbow High School (Junior)
- Keelan Durham, Oxbow High School (Freshman)
- Morgen Edwards, Milton High School (Senior)
- Rebecca Green, St. Johnsbury Academy (Sophomore)
- Abigail Halnon, Milton High School (Senior)
- Zoe Houlihan, North Country Union High School (Freshman)
- Graham Janson, Montpelier High School (Junior)
- Ira Richardson, Bellows Falls Union High School (Senior)
- Julia Stergas, Bellows Free Academy Fairfax (Senior)
- Karley Zier, Missisquoi Valley Union High School (Junior)

To honor the accomplishments of these students, the essays of the winners and the finalists are being entered into the Congressional Record, the official archive of the United States Senate and House of Representatives.

This year, students from 42 Vermont high schools participated in the contest, an increase from the 39 schools that participated last year. 

“The wide-range of issues were particularly impressive, from gender equality and prison reform, to education and immigration,” said Jason Gorczyk, a Milton High School teacher who served as a judge. “Vermont students are well-informed and passionate about substantive issues.”

During the seven years Sanders has held his essay contest, more than 3,000 students from schools throughout Vermont have written essays on a wide range of important issues. 

Winning essays in prior years were written by students from the Vermont Commons School, Winooski High School, Champlain Valley Union High School, Mount Anthony Union High School, Mount Mansfield Union High School, and Milton High School.

To read this year’s winning essays and finalists, click here.