Humanities Endowment Announces Winners of 2005 "Idea of America" Essay Contest

WASHINGTON, (October 11, 2005)

Grand prize winner to be named on Oct. 18

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), as part of its We the People initiative, today announced six winners of the third annual "Idea of America" essay contest for high school juniors.

Winners of the 2005 "Idea of America" essay contest (listed alphabetically) are Ian Gilbert, 17, of Beverly Hills, Mich.; Danielle Lindsay, 17, of Melville, N.Y.; Emily Lockwood, 18, of Conyers, Ga.; Carmiel Schickler, 17, of Port Washington, N.Y.; Matthew Schumann, 18, of Ridgefield, Conn.; and Kevin Zhou, 16, of Danville, Calif. 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 Oct. 18 in Washington, D.C. At this ceremony, one of the six students will be recognized as the grand prize winner and receive an additional $4,000 (a total of $5,000).

This year's essayists responded to the question: "How were the tenets of . . . totalitarian movements different from the ideals that unite Americans? How did the ideals embodied in the American founding prevail?"

"These young essayists recognized the resiliency of our nation and its citizens through many global challenges of the 20th century," said NEH Chairman Bruce Cole. "I congratulate the writers on their winning essays, and want to thank the many students who submitted quality essays."

Launched by President George W. Bush in September 2002, the We the People initiative strengthens the teaching, study, and understanding of American history and culture. This year's essay contest drew entries from 11th-grade public, private, and home-schooled students across the nation. Eligible essays, submitted by the April 15, 2005, deadline, were evaluated first by 16 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.

The ceremony on Oct. 18 also will include the third annual "Heroes of History" lecture to be delivered by author, educator, and former college president Josiah Bunting, who will speak on "George Marshall: An American for All Seasons."

Essay Excerpts

Ian Gilbert (Beverly Hills, Michigan):

"Communism and Fascism used individuals' labor to further abstract ideals, but dictators soon took control and distorted the ideals to suit their own purposes. … Democracy has allowed individuals to work for themselves and to use their products as they wish. While the citizens of Communist and Fascist nations slaved away for the benefit of a dictator, the governments of democratic countries such as the United States trust citizens to make their own decisions."

Danielle Lindsay (Melville, New York):

"The conflict between democracy and authoritarianism represented the struggle of security versus freedom. When democracy was challenged by the uprising of pro-communist and pro-fascist revolutions, America's history and its birth as a free nation provided a stable framework that shaped the will and faith of the people to remain a democratic society."

Emily Lockwood (Conyers, Georgia):

"The rulers of totalitarian governments are only interested in their own gain and unilateral power. The founding fathers of the American government designed a representative process to preclude any one person or group from garnishing too much control. Ours is a government designed 'by the people' and 'for the people.'"

Carmiel Schickler (Port Washington, New York):

"Although authoritarian rule may appeal to a group of people at first, the government almost always eventually manages to exploit its position and create disillusionment within the people, thereby causing a widespread resentment of the government. … In America, however, because rule is always by "we, the people" and for the sake of the same group, … pressure to completely change the system of government within the nation is rarely, if ever, felt."

Matthew Schumann (Ridgefield, Connecticut):

"Our democratic republic was based on popular sovereignty, a concept that places the state's power in the hands of people and obligates the state to serve and obey its citizens. America, today, actively propagates these democratic ideals. Totalitarian governments have historically opposed freedom and democracy. They maintain their power through propaganda, the suppression of opposition, and the use of secret police to create a state of fear."

Kevin Zhou (Danville, California):

"When several nations adopted totalitarian ideals in the forms of Fascism and Communism, they began to suppress fundamental human rights and individual freedoms. However, the decisive defeats of Germany in World War II and the Soviet Union in the Cold War discredited totalitarianism and proved democracy to be the prevailing ideology."

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