Duncan high school student recognized in national essay contest

Arlington, VA_Press Release_Madeline Murrell, a senior at Duncan High School, was awarded honorable recognition in this year's "Being an American" essay contest sponsored by the non-profit Bill of Rights Institute, Arlington, VA.  Murrell and her teacher, Tiffany Jones, each received a $250 prize.  First place in the essay contest went to Jennifer Tran, a senior at Berkner High School in Richardson, Texas.  Tran and her sponsoring teacher, Joni Walther, each received a $5,000 cash award.

Andrew Bobo of Arlington, TX won the $2,500 second place prize and Stephen Sholden, also of Arlington, won the $1,250 third place prize.

Other honorable mention recognition was awarded-along with a $250 prize for the honorees and their teachers -to Jared Pelley of Grace Preparatory Academy (Arlington, TX), Brendan Tseung of the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Sciences (Kennedale, TX), Shea Houlihan of Franklin High School (El Paso, TX), Achal Upadhyaya of Elkins High School (Sugar Land, TX), Lindsay Huffhines of Lubbock High School (Lubbock, TX) and Trinity Stennfeld of S. F. Austin High School (Austin, TX).

Contest winners and their teachers also received an all-expense paid trip to Washington, DC, where they were honored at an April 3 awards dinner featuring former Virginia Governor James S. Gilmore, III. During the Saturday, April 5th program, students also had an opportunity to witness American citizenship in action as they tour Washington, D.C., including visits to the Supreme Court and National Archives.

"With 13,000 students writing essays for consideration, these students have much to be proud of. The winning essays on American citizenship and values were both thoughtful and thought-provoking and should be seen with pride by their communities and schools," said Bill of Rights Institute President Victoria Hughes.

The Being an American Essay Contest is supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation (www.templeton.org). High school students from 19 states and the District of Columbia were eligible to participate this year, with total prizes amounting to $63,000.

The winners above represent the West South Central region, which includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. Additional winners were named for the South Atlantic and West North Central regions. Next year's (2008-09) contest will be open to students in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and will begin this September with total prizes amounting to $202, 000.

To enter the contest, students had to address the following question: "What civic value(s) do you believe are most essential to being an American, and how can you personally put those values into practice?" Their answers were to be based on their understanding of American history, the Founding Fathers, and the founding documents - such as the Constitution, Bill of Rights,  Declaration of Independence, and Federalist Papers - as well as the student's own role as a citizen in a free society, and the challenges and responsibilities that role entails.  Among the civic values explored in submitted essays were justice, civility, tolerance, respect, initiative, courage, perseverance, and equality.

"For those who have given up on America's young people, we invite their attention to this year's winning essays. When challenged to explore 21st century American citizenship in light of the values that animated America's founding, these students demonstrated that they not only understand American history and traditions, but know how to apply the lessons and values of 18th and 19th century America to contemporary society," Hughes said.

In her winning essay, Murrell, who selected "Equality" as the civic value she thought most embodied the American character, wrote: "It is my personal responsibility to look past outward appearances and different beliefs to see the person behind the mask.  I must stand up against racial discrimination, ethnic segregation, and societies' labels."