U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders announced the winners of his ninth 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. Two South Burlington High School students, Paige Dean and Ragulan Sivakumar, were finalists in the contest which boasted 590 entries, from 50 high schools around the state.

The submitted 250 to 500-word essays were written on a variety of issues, including climate change, gun safety, substance use, immigration, political polarization, and higher education. A panel of six Vermont teachers served as volunteer judges, scoring the essays, and choosing the 20 finalists and three winners.

A senior at South Burlington High School, Dean’s essay is a call to Congress about climate change. Noting the integral role Lake Champlain plays in Vermonters’ lives, she also wrote about the impact of climate change around the country.

“The homeowners in Louisiana who can’t sell because their house is in a flood zone, the farmers in Arizona whose crops are withering from drought, the schoolchildren in Flint, Michigan, whose tap water is unsafe to drink, and those Vermonters who can’t utilize their lake due to dangerous algae blooms,” Dean wrote.

Sivakumar’s essay, titled “The Waste Land,” took a look at landfills, recycling programs, and laws, as well as how the U.S. could be a model in the world for effective waste management. The South Burlington High School junior wrote, “As the United Kingdom has shown, a landfill tax can be incredibly effective, reducing the number of landfills by two-thirds in eight years.”

“I’m thrilled students from 50 schools from across Vermont participated in this year’s essay contest,” said Sanders, who serves on the Senate education committee. “We need our students to help find solutions for the problems that face our country. This is just one small way to engage them in that process. That’s what democracy is all about.”

Firdaus Muhammad, a freshman at Essex High School, won the contest with an essay about Islamophobia. He is the first freshman ever to win. Jackson Maiocco, a senior a Bellows Falls Union High School, won second place with an essay about the military budget. Third place went to Joseph Brody, a senior at St. Johnsbury Academy, with an essay on voter suppression.

Sanders will enter the essays of the finalists into the Congressional Record, the official archive of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

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