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NEH Announces Winners of 2004 We the People Student Essay Contest

WASHINGTON (September 29, 2004) -- The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), as part of its We the People initiative, today announced six winners of the second annual Idea of America essay contest for high school juniors.

Winners of the 2004 Idea of America essay contest are Caitlin Carroll, 17, of Marietta, Ga.; Leah Nolan, 17, of Twin Lake, Mich.; Avram Sand, 17, of Teaneck, N.J.; Rachel Shafer, 16, of Longmont, Colo.; Laura Srebro, 17, of Napa, Calif.; and Brian Thurbon, 17, of Topeka, Kan. Each winner will receive a prize of $1,000. In addition, NEH will honor the six winners and present them with medallions recognizing their achievement at a national award ceremony held in Washington, D.C., at Ford's Theatre Oct. 18. At this ceremony, one will be recognized as the grand prize winner and receive $5,000.

This year's essayists responded to the question, "How does the Gettysburg Address reflect America's founding ideas, and what is the relevance of the speech today?"

"These exceptional young Americans have written essays that reflect upon the timeless words of Abraham Lincoln, the role of memory in American history, and the relevance of our Nation's founding ideas in our time," says NEH Chairman Bruce Cole. "I congratulate them on their winning essays, and want to thank the many students who submitted quality essays."

President George W. Bush launched NEH's We the People initiative at a White House ceremony in September 2002. Through the Idea of America essay contest and other programs, We the People strengthens the teaching, study, and understanding of American history and culture. This year's contest drew more than 1,500 entries from 11th-grade public, private, and home-schooled students across the nation. Eligible essays, submitted by the March 15, 2004, deadline, were evaluated first by 40 history teachers. Members of the National Council for the Humanities then reviewed the highest scoring essays and recommended finalists to the NEH Chairman, who selected the winners.

The Ford's Theatre ceremony on Oct. 18 also will include the second annual "Heroes of History" lecture to be delivered by Harold Holzer, one of the nation's leading authorities on the Civil War era, who will speak on "Abraham Lincoln, American Hero." As part of the We the People program, this annual lecture will be delivered by an acclaimed humanities scholar to tell the story of heroic figures in American life and history.

NEH gratefully acknowledges major support provided to We the People by the Honorable William D. Rollnick and the Honorable Nancy Ellison Rollnick.

Essay Excerpts

Caitlin Carroll
Marietta, Georgia

[The Civil War] was a fight not just for the abolition of a barbaric practice, or for a single group of people - although those motives can never be overemphasized - but it was a fight for the very freedoms America had declared sacred at her formation.

Leah Nolan
Twin Lake, Michigan

Lincoln … drew upon the language of the Declaration of Independence, not as a source of binding law, but rather as the wellspring of hope, a firm ideal and a way to shape and guide our country's march toward freedom.

Avram Sand
Teaneck, New Jersey

This was not the first time Lincoln had declared the Civil War to be one of ideas and not interests … There is still "unfinished work which they who fought here [at Gettysburg] have thus far nobly advanced." America is still fighting for those very freedoms to which Lincoln alluded.

Rachel Shafer
Longmont, Colorado

Its brevity lends weight to every word, and it is not only brief, but simple, with a succession of ideas as powerful and inevitable as the cannon blasts that had echoed through Gettysburg four months before.

Laura Srebro
Napa, California

In the 140 years since the Gettysburg Address, America has been challenged many times to preserve the enduring freedoms given to us by the founding fathers, redefined by Lincoln at Gettysburg, and expanded by subsequent generations of Americans.

Brian Thurbon
Topeka, Kansas

Since the founding of the United States of America in 1776, our nation has sought to articulate its most fundamental values, to remind citizens of their duty to their nation and each other, and to preserve its unique emphasis on freedom.

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About the National Endowment for the Humanities

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

Media Contacts: Office of Communications at (202) 606-8446 or info@neh.gov