Sanders Announces Winners of State of the Union Essay Contest

BURLINGTON, Vt., Jan. 24– With President Barack Obama set to deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today announced the winner and top finalists in his annual State of the Union essay contest for Vermont high school students.

A panel of five Vermont teachers judged the essays and selected Alexina Federhen, a junior at Mount Anthony Union High School in Bennington, as the winner of the contest.

The judges awarded Katharine Mayo of Twinfield Union School second place. Two students -- Robert "Will” Aldrich of Mount Abraham Union High School and Brian Townley of Woodstock Union High School – tied for third place. (The full list of finalists is below.)

In her winning essay, Federhen writes: “2013 was a difficult year for America. Nature brought death and disaster by fire, wind, and water; four prominent banks used unethical methods to deprive Americans of their homes; numerous individuals, businesses, and the city of Detroit hit financial rock bottom. ... Americans weathered the tragedies of 2013 with the same determination, innovation, and cooperation that has enabled us to overcome depressions, recessions, wars, and disasters in the past. We pull up our boot straps, plant our feet firmly in the direction of progress, and extend a helping hand to those in need.”

Sanders called to congratulate the top essay writers yesterday. “The discussion about where our country needs to go in the future should not be limited to Washington,” said Sanders, who serves on the Senate education committee. “We also need to hear the voices of young Vermonters. They are the future of our country and they need to be thinking about how we can best address the problems we face.”

For the last four 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.”

This year, 380 students from 26 high schools throughout Vermont submitted essays on how they view the state of the union. Twenty essays were selected as finalists.

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

1st place: Alexina  Federhen, Mount Anthony Union High School

2nd place: Katharine Mayo, Twinfield Union School

3rd place (tie): Robert "Will” Aldrich, Mount Abraham Union High School

3rd place (tie): Brian Townley, Woodstock Union High School

Finalists (in alphabetical order)

  • Owen Deffner, Thetford Academy
  • Kylee DiMaggio, Missisquoi Valley Union
  • Madison Gilley, Mouth Abraham Union High School
  • Fiona Higgins, Champlain Valley Union High School
  • Raihan Kabir, South Burlington High School
  • Emil Koenig, Vermont Commons School
  • Nick Majeski, Woodstock Union High School
  • Emily Martin, Vergennes Union High School
  • Trevor McNaney, Milton High School
  • Abigail Morris, Champlain Valley Union High School
  • Carly Neeld, Champlain Valley Union High School
  • Rebecca Paige, South Royalton School
  • Kendall Spaulding, Missisquoi Valley Union
  • Delaney Spink, South Burlington High School
  • Holly Thayer, Milton High School
  • Eric Tucker, Spaulding High School

In addition to entering the essays of the winner and the finalists into the Congressional Record, Sanders will meet with the 20 finalists during a roundtable discussion to discuss the issues they wrote about in their essays. The roundtable has been scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 1 at Vermont Public Television in Colchester, Vt.

“The students were not only passionate about the future of their nation, but well versed in issues both large and small,” said Roberta Steponaitis, one of the five Vermont teaches who judged the contest. “For those people who think the youth of today are not involved in America's future, I strongly suggest they read the winning essays in this competition.” Steponaitis is a history teacher at Vergennes Union High School.

Jason Gorczyk, a social studies teacher at Milton High School and a judge in the competition, said he “appreciated the candid nature of many responses.”  The students, he said, wrote eloquently about a range of issues, including fracking, the financial burden of going to college, GMOs, conflict in the South China Sea, and the need to raise taxes.

Since Sanders first held his State of the Union essay contest four years ago, more than 1,200 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.

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