We the Students Essay Challenge

Center for the Constitution

2012 Challenge Winners!

Richmond-area public, private and home schooled students from grades 6-12 were invited to participate in the We the Students Essay Challenge sponsored by the American Constitution Spirit Foundation, the Richmond Constitution Plaque Initiative, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and the Center for the Constitution at Montpelier.  After reading through many stellar essays, the judges have announced their winners. And they are:


First Place: 
Savannah Lane
Studying the United States Constitution: Discovering a Yellow Brick Road for Change
     With 51% of Americans expecting a drop off the “fiscal cliff” according to Pew research, Americans are “not in Kansas anymore.” One solution to move forward is found within the United States Constitution. The Constitution is the Rosetta stone of solution through amendment like that within the Bill of Rights. All Americans, especially students inheriting the nation’s problems, must study the principles adopted in the Constitution. This 225 year-old document provides a fix for what Americans believe is broken.
     In 1787, the Framers met to triage the holes of the Articles of Confederation, and, recognizing further work necessary to facilitate “a more perfect union,” included provisions for amendments. Particularly contemplated was the Bill of Rights which University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato describes as containing ideals that Americans hold most dear. According to Sabato, sources suggest that the Constitution was to undergo periodic amendment. Scholars who consider the Constitution a “living” document find such periodic revision unnecessary, instead considering the Constitution capable of expansion to reflect societal mores. Alternatively, commentators argue that men spending months deliberating in airless rooms intended for every word to create impact and argue for adherence to original intent. Both camps, however, recognize the possibility of amendment through a heretofore unused mechanism of Article V.
     Americans overwhelmingly feel that Congress is not responsive. Congress, according to Sabato, is a “graveyard” for change, failing to adequately address issues inspiring passion – defining marriage, fiscal responsibility, etc. The Constitution, however, reveals a grassroots method for change: bypassing Congress through Article V where two thirds of states can petition to call a convention to propose amendments. Therefore, innovation arrives from the ground up rather than Congress down. Students must read the Constitution, and, like Dorothy in a proverbial Oz, recognize that we have possessed the power for change all along.
Savannah Lane is a 12th grade student at Midlothian High School in Chesterfield County.
Savannah has won a set of United States Constitution and Bill of Rights bronze plaques valued at $8,500 for her school and other prizes.

Second Place
: Michelle Thiongo

It is important for American students to learn about the principles and governmental structure adopted in the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The first three Articles of the Constitution establish the rules and separate powers of the three branches of federal government: a legislature, the bicameral Congress; an executive branch led by the President; and a federal judiciary headed by the Supreme Court. The Constitution guides political culture and American Law. The Bill of Rights was the first ten amendments of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights serves to protect the natural rights of property and liberty. They guarantee individual rights to be advocated by the Supreme Court. Furthermore, it plays a role in American law and government and is imperative to the freedoms and culture of our nation. The first ten amendments limit the way the national government uses power over people. Moreover, the Bill of Rights addresses important issues such as prevention of any act that dismantles life, property, or liberty illegally, and exclusion of laws that are biased towards the establishment of religion.
     These governing documents impact me. The United States Constitution affects me because it has to do with how I live, what rules I have to follow, and how I elect presidents. The Bill of rights gives me the freedom of speech, it allows me to be a citizen, and it sets standards for me to live by.
     In conclusion, the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights are significant. These governing documents have shaped our nation, given us freedom and protection, and limited the power of the government. They are the basis of our nation. 

Michelle Thiongo is an 11th grade student at L.C Bird High School in Chesterfield County.

Third Place: 
Jaclyn Bossé
     In America we can contribute our voice and opinion to the government. Many people take our democracy for granted and don't realize how hard our founding fathers worked for our freedom. That's why I think people from an early age need to know how lucky we are to even have a Bill of Rights or the Constitution. Without these rights we would be limited to truly express ourselves and no one likes the idea of being limited. So how can such privileges go on so unnoticed? Well personally I’m really not sure, because I use these rights almost every day.
     For example, in the mornings before school I turn on the news and watch with my brother. If the news anchors didn't have the freedom of speech, I would never know what went on in the world. To me this is a scary thought to always be left in the dark about what events took place in my country. That's why I'm so honored to be in a country where I can speak my mind.
     I also use my freedom of assembly and religion when I meet up with my church to go work on missions. Without those freedoms many people would be affected. This doesn't just include the people we help, but also the fun all of us have together when we do things as a group.
     As you can see I appreciate all of our rights and ways of government. Without these things in our lives today, the country would be drastically different' So I think we owe it to our founding fathers, to our neighbors , and to our country, to appreciate the rights given to us that make the United States a democracy by the people and for the people.
Jaclyn Bossé is an 8th grade student at Liberty Middle School in Hanover County.




The Prompt

Why is it important for American students to learn about the principles and governmental structure adopted in the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights, considered to be this nation's governing documents, and how does it impact you today?

Winners were announced at halftime of the Championship games of the TDIT  tournament on December 22, 2012.