MONTPELIER, Vt., Feb. 16 – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) held a roundtable discussion at the Vermont State House on Saturday afternoon with the twenty finalists of his ninth annual State of the Union essay contest. The contest gives Vermont high school students an opportunity to describe which issues they would prioritize if they were president.
“Each year, I look forward to this lively and spirited conversation. We all should be so proud of our students. Once again, they have done a remarkable job sharing their thoughts about some of the most challenging issues facing the United States,” said Sanders, who serves on the Senate education committee.
This year, 590 students from 50 Vermont high schools throughout Vermont submitted essays on issues that included climate change, gun safety, substance use, immigration, political polarization, higher education and more. A panel of six Vermont teachers served as volunteer judges, scoring the essays and choosing the twenty finalists and three winners.
Firdaus Muhammad, a freshman at Essex High School, won this year’s contest with an essay about Islamophobia. She is the first freshman ever to win the essay contest. “The United States is a country of diversity, a country built by immigrants. Any person who comes from any religion, deserves to feel respected and welcomed in this country,” Muhammad wrote in her winning essay.
Sanders entered the twenty finalists’ essays into the Congressional Record – the official archive of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives – and presented each student with a framed copy at Saturday’s event.
Since Sanders began the State of the Union essay contest, thousands of Vermont students have written essays on a wide range of important issues.
“This essay contest is just one small way to engage our students to identify problems and develop solutions to those problems. That’s what democracy is all about,” Sanders said.