BURLINGTON, Vt., Jan. 23 - More than 300 students from 30 Vermont high schools shared their thoughts on the major issues facing the United States in Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) second annual State of the Union essay contest. Among other issues, the students wrote about the declining middle class, growing inequality in the United States, the environment, civil liberties, and the burdens of student debt.
"This is a pivotal moment in American history and all Americans, including our young people, must be thinking about and debating the serious issues facing our country. That is what democracy is all about," Sanders said. "I'm delighted that 308 students, from 30 different schools throughout Vermont, thought about the challenges ahead as they wrote their own State of the Union essay."
The winner, selected by a panel of five Vermont teachers, is Jennifer Sikorski, a senior at Winooski High School. In addition to Sikorski, 18 students were named as finalists. Four of the finalists -- students from Burr and Burton Academy, Champlain Valley Union High School, Milton High School and South Burlington High School -- were named "Runner Up." Sanders announced the selections one day before President Barack Obama will deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.
The winning essay began: "Ever since the Declaration of Independence was signed, the United States has constantly paved the way to peace and prosperity both for itself and the rest of the world. However, as the world economy rapidly disintegrates, new issues have emerged, from unemployment to the environment to gay rights, and in the midst of it all, America stands still, seemingly oblivious to the fact that its future is crumbling in front of it. It is time to pave the way to prosperity once again."
The winning essay, and those of the finalists, will be placed in the Congressional Record. In the coming weeks, Sanders will hold a town meeting with students at Winooski High School, the school of the winner, to discuss the challenges facing the country. The senator will also host a roundtable discussion with all of the finalists.
The contest was judged by five Vermont social studies and English teachers: Brian Burgess of Hazen Union School; Liz Lebrun of Poultney High School; Lois Little of Canaan Memorial High School; Joe Maley of South Burlington High School; and Terri Vest of Twinfield Union High School in Plainfield.
"It was exciting to see how Vermont students really understood some of the economic, political, and environmental issues our country faces," said LeBrun, who chairs the social studies department at Poultney High School and served as one of the contest's judges. "Students were particularly concerned with the state of education in our country and many expressed a desire to see more emphasis placed on improving the quality and access to education in the United States."
The winner and finalists are listed below (in alphabetical order):
- Jennifer Sikorski, Winooski High School (Winner)
- Monica Allard, Milton High School (Runner Up)
- Kayleigh Ehler-Vock, South Burlington High School (Runner Up)
- Kate Raszka, Champlain Valley Union High School (Runner Up)
- Karolina Sowulewska, Burr and Burton Academy (Runner Up)
- Hannah Apfelbaum, Champlain Valley Union High School (Honorable Mention)
- Erin Clauss, Champlain Valley Union High School (Honorable Mention)
- Yamuna Dahal, Winooski High School (Honorable Mention)
- Julienne DeVita, Champlain Valley Union High School (Honorable Mention)
- Alden Fletcher, Champlain Valley Union High School (Honorable Mention)
- Jack Du Pre, Vergennes Union High School (Honorable Mention)
- Emma Hamilton, Champlain Valley Union High School (Honorable Mention)
- Zach Holman, Champlain Valley Union High (Honorable Mention)
- Katie Leavitt, Woodstock Union High School (Honorable Mention)
- Theophila Lee, South Burlington High School (Honorable Mention)
- Giovanina Mier, St. Johnsbury Academy (Honorable Mention)
- Travis Kent Reed,Vergennes Union High School (Honorable Mention)
- Dahlia Somers, South Burlington High School (Honorable Mention)
- Kidder Spillane, Champlain Valley Union High School (Honorable Mention)
"It is important that I hear from a wide range of Vermonters and this essay contest is an effective way for me to learn what our students think about some of the most important issues facing our nation," Sanders said, adding his thanks for the teachers that served as judges.
To read the essays of the winner and the finalists, click here.