Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) announced the winners of his thirteenth annual State of the Union Essay Contest, which gives Vermont high school students of all backgrounds an opportunity to address a major issue facing the country and propose solutions. This year, 382 students from 31 Vermont high schools submitted essays. A panel of seven Vermont educators served as volunteer judges, ranking the essays and selecting twelve finalists and three winners.
Since Sanders started the contest, more than 5,700 students throughout Vermont – representing almost every high school in the state – have written essays about critically important issues, including climate change, access to mental health care, political polarization, gun safety, disability rights, racial justice, and more.
“The future of our state, country, and world rests in the hands of young people,” said Sanders. “Every year, I am moved listening to young Vermonters share their ideas about how we can address the many challenges we face. Thank you to all the students who participated in this year’s contest. I look forward to our discussion”
Sanders invited the finalists to join him for a roundtable discussion, which was held at the Vermont State House on Saturday, February 11. Sanders will also enter the finalists’ essays into the Congressional Record, the official archive of the U.S. Congress. The contest is timed to coincide with the President’s annual address to a joint session of Congress, which took place on Tuesday, February 7.
August Howe, from Twinfield Union School, won first-place with an essay on misinformation. “Social media platforms are essentially news sources at this point, yet they are not held to the same legal standards. News sources are liable for the content they release, social media platforms, however, are exempt from such liability by Section 230 … Originally created to protect internet user’s speech, Section 230 now enables people to exercise their freedom of speech and introduce mis- and disinformation into the media stream without consequence. Equally as important as holding companies accountable is encouraging the education of the general public on media literacy and critical thinking skills to identify misinformation and fake news.”
J. Lahue from Burr & Burton Academy, the second-place winner, wrote about political polarization. “Political polarization, or the divergence of political beliefs away from the center towards ideological extremes, is a prominent problem and a threat to democracy. Americans continue to create more divides between people who have opposing views, and the result, an astounding lack of empathy plagues our country … By correcting economic inequalities, bettering the education system, and introducing Citizen Assemblies, polarization can be slowly eliminated.”
Keenan Wallace, the third-place winner from Twinfield Union School, wrote about unions and labor rights. “Recently there has been a slew of confrontations between workers and corporations, from Starbucks and Amazon to the threatened rail strikes earlier this year, 2022 has been tumultuous … The framework for the solution is already in place. The NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) is an agency that was created to enforce the NLRA (National Labor Rights Act). This agency is responsible for helping organize unions and they step in when corporations violate the NLRA … Increasing funding for the NLRB is a simple, low cost solution to a problem that has plagued the American working class for decades. A stronger NLRB would not only be a boon for workers, but also a valuable tool for the government to check the ever increasing power that corporations hold over our democracy.”
The winners of this year’s essay contest are:
• First place: August Howe, Twinfield Union School, Junior
• Second place: J Lahue, Burr & Burton Academy, Freshman
• Third place: Keenan Wallace, Twinfield Union School, Junior
The finalists of this year’s contest (in alphabetical order by last name):
• Jacob Antonovich, Bellows Free Academy Fairfax, Senior
• Andrew Barrett, Oxbow High School, Sophomore
• Alexander Califano, Craftsbury Academy, Junior
• Leah Kuhnert, Woodstock Union High School, Junior
• Ella Mattei, Northfield High School, Freshman
• Leila McMillian, South Burlington High School, Freshman
• Alaina Rogers, Bellows Free Academy Fairfax, Junior
• Hannah Smiley, Milton High School, Sophomore
• Joshua Stearns, Hanover High School, Junior
• Lyla Trigaux, Burlington High School, Freshman
• Samantha Urbina, Bellows Free Academy Fairfax, Junior
• Gretchen Wertlieb, South Burlington High School, Freshman
To read the essays of the winners and finalists, go here: https://www.sanders.senate.gov/wp-content/uploads/State-of-the-Union-Essay-Contest-Packet-2023-Final.pdf.
To learn more about opportunities for Vermont students through Senator Sanders’ office, visit: https://www.sanders.senate.gov/vermont/students/.
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