Home-schooled Lansing student wins national essay contest
A home-schooled high school student from Lansing and a De Soto High School student beat out more than 50,000 other participants for top spots in America’s largest high school essay contest, the Bill of Rights Institute announced.
Representing the Great Plains Region, Timothy Cahill Jr., a home-schooled senior, earned first place and $5,000 in the fourth annual Being An American Essay Contest. Jamie Zvirgzdins, a senior at De Soto High School, earned an Honorable Mention prize and $250. The national competition is sponsored by the Bill of Rights Institute, an educational nonprofit based near Washington, D.C.
Cahill’s teacher and father, Timothy Cahill, Sr., and Zvirgzdins’ sponsoring teacher, Mike Runyan, received matching cash prizes.
In addition to the cash prizes, the Cahills also won paid trips to the nation’s capital, where they were honored on March 23 at an awards gala. The Washington trip also included a Capitol Hill luncheon with federal lawmakers, where Cahill met Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., and tours of the U.S. Capitol, Supreme Court and National Archives.
“It is encouraging to see so many teens heading into adulthood with a solid understanding of the principles upon which our country was founded,” said Bill of Rights Institute President Victoria Hughes, a former teacher. “This year’s winners deserve the accolades of their peers, teachers and communities for their contribution to the national conversation on American citizenship.”
More than 100,000 students attending public and private high schools, and home-schooled students from all 50 states, have participated in the Being An American Essay Contest to date, with nearly half-a-million dollars in prize money being awarded to winning students and their teachers.
“I am proud to support the Being An American Essay Contest and its goal of helping students understand the rights and responsibilities of American citizenship,” said New York philanthropist David H. Koch, the contest’s national sponsor. “I congratulate this year’s winners for their efforts.”
Additional sponsors include the Stuart Family Foundation, San Francisco; Amway Global, Ada, Mich.; the Jack Miller Family Foundation, Chicago; Norma Zimdahl, Tucson, Ariz.; the History Channel, New York, N.Y.; and the Cincinnatus Foundation, Washington, D.C.
To participate, students were asked to share their thoughts on American citizenship by answering the following question: “What civic value do you believe is most essential to being an American?”
In his winning essay, Cahill, who selected “responsibility” as the civic value topic of his essay and thought George Washington most embodied the American character, wrote, “Although the Founding Fathers created Constitutional checks and balances to prevent loss of liberty through abuse of power, they foresaw that precautions are useless if each American is not individually responsible. To preserve liberty, we must each embrace our Founder's legacy of responsibility.”
In her winning essay, Zvirgzdins, who selected “perseverance” as the civic value topic of her essay and thought Thomas Edison most embodied the American character, wrote, “To really persevere and stand strong through the hard times is what makes a true American.”
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