Thursday March 05, 2015
In early January, 454 high school students from 27 schools across Vermont submitted essays to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ State of the Union essay contest. The students discussed major issues facing the country in only 250 – 500 words, explaining how they would prioritize them if they were president. On January 19, Sanders announced the contest winner and top finalists..
Peter Camardo, a senior at South Burlington High School (SBHS), was among the 20 finalists.
Camardo wrote about “the American consciousness of politics” and how “our political efficacy is degraded…people aren’t involved anymore.” Camardo delves deep into his topic, using cogent and clear-cut language. “We have begun to feel entitled and to neglect our responsibility as American citizens. Issues of great concern are being ignored by the American population as if they mean nothing…we must be educated before we can solve our issues of today…and... stop ignoring problems just because they are not affecting us directly…Congress should set an example for leadership and communication, and…inspire the people…through proactive legislation and positive inter-party communication…bipartisan conflict…dejects us,” he writes. Quoting the Preamble to the Constitution, he states that government officials should endeavor to accomplish the objective of our government.
SBHS Public Issues and World Affairs (PIWA) teacher, Kim Watkin, assigned an essay as an exam requirement for the course. Then, Camardo was encouraged to submit his essay to the competition.
On Saturday, January 31, Camardo along with the other 19 finalists met with Sanders at the Statehouse for a round-table discussion of the issues the participants identified in their essays. To honor their accomplishments, each of the finalists’ essays were entered into the Congressional Record After each student had given a synopsis of his/her essay, Sanders identified what he considers the top three issues facing our nation. Camardo says that “Being in the same room as [Sanders], I kind of got a feel for who he was.” He learned that the issues Sanders identified are similar to his beliefs. Sanders’ identified three points - the state of the American democracy, global climate change, and the income tax. Camardo praises the senator, saying “I think he does a good job dealing with those [issues]. He’s definitely an awesome guy.”
Student Government Reform
Being involved in politics is nothing new to Camardo. As a part of his Senior Challenge—a Career Development Center (CDC)-run semester-long class where students explore their interests—he recently introduced reform to the structure of student government at SBHS, with which the school administration was pleased. The idea involves having a 16-member House of Representatives with four representatives from each class and a 12-member Senate with three officers from each class. Once a year, officers or representatives will be able to present their own or another student’s proposal to the House and Senate. The houses can then amend the suggestion and vote on it. If it passes both houses, it moves on to the Executive branch made up of three executive officers who will discuss it with the administration.
A mock-debate of hypothetical bills occurred at the council’s meeting January 19. There was “some rough discussion…people enjoyed it,” Camardo remarks. The council will move forward on the concept next meeting. “Once the student council has [a] better understanding of the discussion process, we’ll start to market it to the student body; that’s when we’ll get real bills coming in.” Already, a few student council members have approached him with bills their class members discussed.
Camardo’s essay ties in to his Senior Challenge. “My opening sentence was about how a democracy is a government by the people, but the people have to be active, and that’s not really happening today. What I’m trying to do with the South Burlington school community is to create active members of student government and active members of the student body who know how to get involved in the government processes…I’ve modeled the student government processes after [those of the] national government to educate student body members about [those] processes…my reason for doing this is to create educated adults who are interested in politics and who are active members in a democracy.”
Camardo wants to study business and economics as an undergraduate, work in business through his ‘20s and study corporate law in law school. After that, he says, “I may end up in politics.”
Camardo’s full essay is available under the Press Release division of the Newsroom section of Bernie Sander’s website, www.sanders.senate.gov.
SOURCE: Ali Barritt, SBHS CDC Correspondent