Sanders Announces Winners of 11th Annual State of the Union Essay Contest

BURLINGTON, Vt., Feb. 23 – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Tuesday announced the winners of his eleventh annual State of the Union essay contest, which gives Vermont high school students an opportunity to describe pressing issues they would prioritize as president of the United States. Over the past 11 years, nearly 5,000 students throughout Vermont, representing almost every high school in the state, have written essays about critically important issues, including racial justice, gun safety, immigration, climate change, mental health care, the rising cost of college, and more. This year, 319 students from 42 Vermont high schools submitted essays. A panel of six Vermont teachers served as volunteer judges, scoring the essays and selecting the 8 finalists and three winners.  

William Taggard, the first place winner from Brattleboro Union High School, and Simon Rosenbaum, the third place winner from Vermont Commons School, both wrote essays about the state of our democracy. Taggard focused his on essay on changing our presidential election process. “Our democracy has been under unprecedented pressure in recent months, culminating in the insurrection in our nation’s capital. Fortunately, democracy and truth have prevailed. However, our current system leaves ample room for improvement: namely the Electoral College. We need to review the merits of the Electoral College and determine how best to protect our democratic process,” wrote Taggard.

Rosenbaum wrote about the need to strengthen our democratic institutions. “This past year terrified me. It was not just the carnage and isolation of the pandemic. I was afraid because the America I love and believe in felt like it was on the brink of collapse,” Rosenbaum wrote. “To preserve the union and our nation, we must eliminate the possibility for a President to wield unitary executive authority. Diminishing the power of the Executive Branch will mitigate the damage that an unfit executive could cause. The most pressing issue that we as Americans face today is the preservation of our democracy,” concluded Rosenbaum. 

Emilia De Jounge from Burr and Burton Academy, whose essay focused on gun violence, is the second place winner in the competition. “The right to bear arms is in our Constitution, yet that does not negate the need for sound and rational policies around the sales of firearms. Currently, nearly 400 million guns are privately owned in the US, more than the country’s population, with sharp increases in recent years. Gun violence needs to be recognized and addressed as a top priority public health issue,” De Jounge wrote.

“During a year that has been immensely challenging for teachers, students, and families, I could not be more proud that students from all across Vermont took the time to participate in this year’s essay contest,” said Sanders, who serves on the Senate education committee. “The subjects these young people wrote about are not the stuff of history books, they are issues they are living through themselves, including an unprecedented health and economic crisis, a renewed fight for racial justice, and threats to our democracy. These struggles will be with us for a long time, and it is more important than ever to listen to the perspectives and ideas of our young people.” 

Sanders will enter the finalists’ essays into the Congressional Record — the official archive of the U.S. Congress. Additionally, Senator Sanders has invited the finalists to join him for a roundtable discussion, which will be held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on Monday, March 1 at 7:30pm. Knowing the importance of amplifying students’ voices and perspectives, Sanders has also invited the 11 finalists to be interviewed about their essay topic for inclusion in official videos and social media produced by his Senate office. Videos featuring last year’s finalists can be viewed here, here, and here.

“Each year this contest is an important reminder of the immense amount of work before us. It is also encouraging to know that so many young people are thinking about the issues, standing up for what they believe, and making their voices heard,” said Sanders. The contest is timed to coincide with the president’s annual address to a joint session of Congress. The date for this year’s address has not yet been announced. 

The winners of this year’s essay contest are:

First Place: William Taggard (Brattleboro Union High School, Junior)
Second Place: Emilia De Jounge (Burr and Burton Academy, Sophomore)
Third Place: Simon Rosenbaum (Vermont Commons School, Junior)

Finalists (in alphabetical order):
Emily Borrazzo (South Burlington High School, Sophomore)
Ling Bushey (Bellows Free Academy, Fairfax, Senior)
Fatima Khan (Essex High School, Junior)
Eh Ka Luu (Winooski High School, Senior)
Kada Orlow (Burlington High School, Freshman)
Ella Partlow (Missisquoi Valley Union High School, Junior)
Alexander Shriver (Brattleboro Union High School, Senior)
Stephie Siki (Winooski High School, Senior)

To read the essays of the winners and finalists, click here.