Essay by Longmont's Rachel Shafer judged best in NEH's Idea of America contest
Rachel Shafer, a 16-year-old home-schooled student from Longmont, Colo., was named Grand Prize winner of the second annual Idea of America essay contest for high school juniors, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced today. Shafer learned of her selection at an evening award ceremony sponsored by NEH at historic Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. The annual student essay contest is part of the Endowment's We the People initiative to strengthen the teaching, study, and understanding of American history and culture. As grand prize winner, Shafer receives $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?"
"Rachel Shafer's essay clearly conveys the power and impact of Lincoln's timeless words, the importance of remembering our nation's history, and the relevance of America's founding principles," says NEH Chairman Bruce Cole. "I congratulate her on her excellent essay."
In her essay entitled "Looking Back on a Legacy of Liberty," Shafer wrote of the Gettysburg Address: "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." She also observed: "The tendency to grow weary of our responsibilities, and discouraged by the challenges we face, makes the preservation of liberty and unity a constant struggle. That is why the Gettysburg Address will never lose its relevance for Americans."
Last month Shafer and five other student essayists were named winners of the 2004 Idea of America Essay Contest. All six participated in Monday's ceremony and received medallions in recognition of their achievements. Other students recognized for their outstanding essays were Caitlin Carroll, 17, of Marietta, Ga.; Leah Nolan, 17, of Twin Lake, Mich.; Avram Sand, 17, of Teaneck, N.J.; Laura Srebro, 17, of Napa, Calif.; and Brian Thurbon, 18, of Topeka, Kan. The five winners each receive a prize of $1,000.
This year's Idea of America Essay 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 on the Humanities then reviewed the highest scoring essays and recommended finalists to the NEH Chairman, who selected the winners.
NEH gratefully acknowledges major support provided to We the People by the Honorable William D. Rollnick and the Honorable Nancy Ellison Rollnick.