The We the People Journey
The Center for the Constitution at James Madison’s Montpelier runs both the District of Columbia and Virginia We the People programs. Both the DC and Virginia teams competed at the recent 2012 We the People National Finals, which tests students on their knowledge of the Constitution. Our congratulations go to the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy—Parkside Campus students in DC, and to the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies students in Virginia for their stellar performances.
After three days of intense competition, nearly 1,500 high school students sit in the George Mason University Center for the Arts, along with over 1,000 parents, teachers, and volunteers, eagerly awaiting the results of the 2012 We the People National Finals. The mood is excited, nervous, and a bit giddy. The auditorium is alive with the jitters of the top 10 state teams that just finished competing on Capitol Hill not four hours previously.
After months of preparation, it comes down to this moment: the awards ceremony. Who will be crowned the Constitution victor?
Unable to sit still while they await the speaker who marks the start of the ceremony, random groups stand up to dance to the music, cheered on by their fellow competitors. When that is no longer entertaining, they start the wave.
Saturday, April 28, and Sunday, April 29 saw the qualifying rounds of competition. Fifty-six teams from across the country, each broken down into six groups, or units, of students, competed in front of panels of judges on their knowledge of the U.S. Constitution. From the philosophical and historical foundations of the American political system and how the Framers created the Constitution, to how the Constitution has been changed and shaped American institutions and practices, to the rights protected in the Bill of Rights and the challenges that face American constitutional democracy in the 21st century, these students systematically debunked every stereotype of American teenagers. They were prepared. They were confident. They knew more about the Constitution and the American founding than any person you could pick off of the street. In short, they were leaders—and the very leaders we need to guide this country in the future.
After the qualifying rounds, the top ten teams were announced, based on the judges’ scores. Classes from Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington all regrouped on Capitol Hill to begin a 3rd day of intense competition to determine the national champion.
We are now all together in this room asking ourselves the same question: who’s it going to be?
We stand for the national anthem, sung by students from Arizona, and for the Pledge of Allegiance, led by two students from the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy’s Parkside Campus, who represented the District of Columbia in the competition. They follow “…with liberty and justice for all” with a shout: “Go USA!” The crowd erupts.
We honor our teachers and coaches with plaques and applause. These dedicated people went above and beyond the call of duty when they agreed to coach a national We the People team. It is to them that we all owe a debt of gratitude for molding these students into the scholars and leaders they have become.
It’s time. Virginia’s team from Maggie Walker Governor’s School took the title last year. The jitters turn to silence, thick with anticipation.
10th place … Washington state. Go Tahoma Senior High School!
9th place … North Carolina. Virginia’s southern neighbors from Northwest Guilford High School really shined!
8th place … Alabama. Great work, Vestavia Hills High School!
7th place … Florida. We the People veteran school Our Lady of Lourdes Academy made a fine showing!
6th place … Colorado. Congratulations, Denver East High School!
5th place … Indiana. Munster High School really wowed the judges!
4th place … New Jersey. Awesome job, East Brunswick High School!
[Virginia made the top 3!]
3rd place … California. Way to go, Arcadia High School!
[Our hands are shaking...]
2nd place … Virginia! We are so proud of the Maggie Walker students!
1st place … Oregon! A well-deserved win for an impressive team! Great job!
As each team makes its way to the stage, we are reminded that there is more than one winner here. Each and every student in the auditorium won when they dedicated themselves to learning about the American founding and knowing the rights and responsibilities of citizens. Each volunteer here wins for giving up his or her time for the students and for listening to their impressive testimonies. Above all else, and for reasons even yet to be seen, we all won, because we know that the future of this country could not be in better hands.
Congratulations to all of the We the People National Finals competitors. And our distinct admiration goes to the Virginia and Washington, DC teams for all they have accomplished.
For more information on the DC and Virginia We the People programs, visit the Center for the Constitution’s website.