Elise Liu's "Idea of America" essay selected for $5,000 grand prize
WASHINGTON (November 6, 2006)–Elise Liu, 17, of Pittsburgh, Pa., was selected as the grand prize winner in the national "Idea of America" Essay Contest, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced today. NEH Chairman Bruce Cole made the announcement at a special reception and dinner at the U.S. Supreme Court in honor of Liu and three other student winners in the 2006 contest. The annual competition for high school juniors is part of NEH's We the People program, launched by President George W. Bush in 2002, to strengthen the teaching, study, and understanding of American history and culture.
"I congratulate Elise Liu on her excellent essay," said Chairman Cole. "Her analysis of the issues, her understanding of the principles set forth by our founding fathers, and her examination of their historical deliberations show a real engagement with our democratic ideals. It is extremely important that American young people understand the founding ideals of our nation. Elise has not just learned about American ideals, but has analyzed and thought about how these ideals benefit and influence us today."
Essayists were asked to write 1,500 words on the historical debate in the First Congress during the summer of 1789 over the adoption of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Liu's essay focused on the arguments for and against adopting the amendment as presented by the Federalists, who favored a strong central government, and the Anti-Federalists who held the opposite view.
In her essay, Liu wrote, "While the Constitution was being written and ratified, Anti-Federalists were already clamoring for a Declaration of Rights of the people. Since the new government would be more powerful than its predecessor, they worried that the absence of a list of basic freedoms would grant the federal government tyrannical power…. In contrast, Federalists opposed any change to the Constitution. They pointed out that the government had not existed long enough to know its flaws and contended that enumerated rights were unnecessary for a democratic republic." [Read the full text  of Liu's essay.]
Liu, who attends Fox Chapel Area High School in Pittsburgh, received a special medallion and an award of $5,000 for her grand prize winning essay. Three other winners, also honored at Monday's event, received medallions and awards of $1,000 each: Sean Frazier, 17, of Montauk, N.Y., who attends East Hampton High School in Montauk; Sang (Bill) Jung, 17, of Rochester Hills, Mich., attends the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn.; and Anna Pritt, 17, of Walkersville, Md., who is home-schooled. The event at the U.S. Supreme Court included remarks by Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer.
This year's contest drew entries from more than 1,700 11th-grade public, private, and home-schooled students across the nation. Essays were first evaluated by 16 history teachers. Those essays with the highest scores were then reviewed by staff at the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum in Chicago and members of the National Council on the Humanities, who recommended finalists to NEH Chairman Bruce Cole. The Chairman made the final selections.
The National Endowment for the Humanities gratefully acknowledges the generous support provided by the National Trust for the Humanities and by the McCormick Tribune Foundation for the Endowment's We the People program.