Senator Bernie Sanders speaks to Vermont high school students at State of the Union Essay Contest

By Sam Israel, WVNY

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders held a roundtable discussion with high school students Saturday afternoon at the Vermont State House in Montpelier.

“The goal is to make young people understand that their voices matter and to get them to think about the very serious problems facing our country,” says United States Senator Bernie Sanders.

Sanders holds the State of the Union Essay Contest annually where Vermont high school students submit essays on topics they believe are important issues facing the United States.

“You don’t have to be 80 years of age, you don’t have to be 60,” Sanders says. “You could be 17 years of age. And you have a right to be thinking and expressing your point of view about the issues facing your community.”

This year’s contest saw submissions from more than 400 students from 38 different High Schools. Sanders enjoyed this year’s submissions.

“I am very impressed by the younger generation,” Sanders says. “This is a generation that understands that the country faces serious problems and that these problems will impact them more than the younger generation and I think they’re ready to roll their sleeves and get to work.”

Students wrote about topics ranging from voting rights, gender discrimination to climate change. Jackson Bennett was a finalist who wrote about the harmful impact of plastic waste. He believes there should be a national ban on plastic or a government controlled incentive for people to switch to plastic alternatives.

“To see how much trash has polluted our street in the green state is kind of sad,” says Jackson Bennett. “I wanted to talk with Senator Sanders and did some research.”

Penelope Derosset was another finalist. She wrote about gender discrimination in the United States and would like to see the Equal Rights Amendment passed.

“As someone who isn’t a man, these issues affect people,” says Penelope Derosset. “[I see] what negative impact gender discrimination has with the law.”

Students were honored to have the opportunity to speak with Senator Sanders.

“It’s unbelievable,” says finalist Jackson Bennett. “I never thought I’d be here today doing this. It’s quite an honor.”

“It’s such an honor,” says finalist Penelope Derosset. “I was one of the youngest finalists and it’s so great to sit in a room with people and learn from them and listen to them and have them listen to me too. It was really great.”

Senator Sanders entered the finalists essays into the congressional record which is the official archive of the US Congress. Nearly 5,000 students throughout Vermont have submitted essays during the event’s tenure. Sanders believes the future is in good hands with the younger generation.