WOODSTOCK— On Monday, Jan. 29, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders announced the winners of his eighth annual State of the Union essay contest, which gives Vermont high school students an opportunity to describe which issues they would prioritize if they were president.
A panel of seven Vermont teachers who served as volunteer judges selected Marjorie Parker, a sophomore at Woodstock Union High School, as this year’s winner. Parker focused on the need to prevent hate crimes, particularly against members of the LGBT community.
“With the recent military ban on transgender Americans, the LGBT community is feeling singled out and at risk,” Parker wrote. “One way to bring a greater feeling of peace to these fellow Americans is by increasing protections instead of taking them away.”
Alaura Rich, a senior at St. Johnsbury Academy, was the second place winner. Rich wrote about the prohibitive cost of a college education and the need for the United States to have the best-educated workforce in the world.
“The Declaration of Independence birthed the underlying fundamental foundation of our nation’s belief in both opportunity and upward mobility, and it is the responsibility of the United States government to ensure equal educational opportunities for all,” Rich wrote.
Oliver Minshall, a junior at Hanover High School, wrote about income inequality and was the third place winner.
“To improve the state of this great country, we must find a solution to the pernicious scourge of income inequality and create a more just, equitable and sustainable path for our economy,” Minshall wrote.
Ethan Schmitt, a sophomore at Rutland High School, was also selected as a finalist.
This year, 585 students from 47 Vermont high schools submitted 250-500 word essays — more schools than in any prior year.
Sanders has invited the 20 finalists to join him for a roundtable discussion at the Statehouse in Montpelier on Saturday, Feb. 10 to discuss the issues they wrote about in their essays. “I always enjoy speaking with these students about what they would change to make our country a better place,” said Sanders, who serves on the Senate education committee. “We need our students to help find solutions for the problems that face our country. That’s what democracy is all about.”
The winners and finalists will also have their essays entered into the Congressional Record — the official archive of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
Since Sanders held the first State of the Union essay contest, thousands of students have written essays on a range of important issues such as the declining middle class, climate change, health care, the national debt, the rising cost of a college education, and many other topics.