NEH Announces 11th-Grade Winners of 'Idea of America' Essay Contest

WASHINGTON, (February 16, 2003)

Laura Bush to recognize six young writers during White House ceremony

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) today announced the winners of its inaugural "Idea of America" essay contest as part of the Endowment's new We the People initiative. The "Idea of America" essay contest drew more than 1,300 entries from across the nation, with one 11th-grade student selected as grand prize winner and five others selected as runners up. Laura Bush will award medals to the young essayists at a White House ceremony scheduled for Tuesday, Feb.18, 2003. [Note: Due to a major snowstorm in the mid-Atlantic region, the ceremony was postponed to a later date.]

Morghan Transue, 17, of Kendall Park, N.J., will receive $5,000 from NEH for her winning essay on the landmark Supreme Court decision Marbury v. Madison. The runners-up, who will receive $1,000 each, are: Jessica Baris, 16, of San Diego, Calif.; Amy Connolly, 17, of Lawrence, Kansas; Andrea Hearst, 16, of San Francisco, Calif.; Sean O'Mara, 16, of Easton, Maine; and Matthew Rogan, 17, of Arlington, Va.

President George W. Bush announced the Endowment's We the People initiative at a White House ceremony last September to help support the teaching of American history and civics education. In his FY 2004 budget for NEH submitted earlier this month, the President asked Congress for $25 million in new funding to support the We the People initiative.

"Both the overall quality of the winning essays and the number of students who submitted their work suggest a core of young Americans who truly recognize the importance of understanding our nation's history," says NEH Chairman Bruce Cole. "We hope that next year's essay contest will encourage even more 11th grade students to participate and gain a deeper understanding of who we are as a nation."

We the People is designed to strengthen the teaching, study, and understanding of American history and culture. For the "Idea of America" essay contest, which will be held annually as part of the NEH initiative, 11th-grade students from across the country were invited to submit a 1,200-word essay on a topic that challenged them to research and analyze the principles that define and unite our nation. The subjects of the winning essays included the Constitution's flexibility as reflected by the amendments to adopt and then repeal Prohibition, the Supreme Court case that ensured a citizen's right to legal representation, and the role of President George Washington's response to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 in establishing the power of the rule of law in a young nation.

In her winning essay, Transue examined the power of judicial review and the important role it plays in our government's system of checks and balances. She cited the decision in the Supreme Court case Marbury v. Madison, which set the precedent for judicial review and "raised the judiciary to a level equal to that of the legislative and executive branches, one able to check and balance the other two branches' power." Transue wrote:

Tragic events like the September 11th attacks may fragment Americans' lives and sense of security, but common principles pull us together into a unified nation. Checks and balances, a principle first established by the founding fathers, continues to support and safeguard our strong national government, which provides citizens security and aid in times of crisis. . . .As a 'check,' judicial review exemplifies how the system has protected democracy and personal liberty against such terrors since its creation. Without a strong system of constitutional checks and balances and the implied powers of judicial review from Marbury v. Madison, Americans today could not boast a truly free country.

(Read the full text of Transue's essay on the We the People website.)

The White House awards ceremony [now postponed until a future date] also will include the inaugural "Heroes of History" lecture. NEH announced on Feb. 3 that Robert V. Remini, professor emeritus of history and humanities at the University of Illinois at Chicago, will deliver the first of these lectures on "Ordinary Heroes: Founders of Our Republic." This lecture, which will be held annually as part of the We the People program, will be delivered each year 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 William D. Rollnick and Nancy Ellison and additional support provided by the A&E Network.

Additional information about the Endowment's We the People initiative, including the full text of Transue's essay, is available at

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