’A wonderful opportunity’: 2020 Law Day High School Essay Contest winners chosen | TheUnion.com

’A wonderful opportunity’: 2020 Law Day High School Essay Contest winners chosen

Stephen Baker, a local attorney who has been managing the Nevada County Bar Association’s Law Day High School Essay Contest for 14 years, said the best part of running the contest is seeing each year “what the kids are thinking.”

The contest, open to Nevada County high schoolers, asked that they write an essay of no more than 500 words based on the year’s prompt. The essays were then judged by a group of attorneys, who chose first, second, and third prize winners — awarded $2,000, $1,000, and $500, respectively — and two honorable mentions.

The 2020 prompt directed students to argue for a change they would like to make to the U.S. Constitution that they believe would strengthen democracy in the nation. The winning students were announced last month.

Baker said he thinks this is one of the best questions the contest has posed over the years.

“It asks the kids not just to tell us what they would propose as a change to the Constitution, but how their proposed change would improve our democracy,” Baker wrote in an email. He added that Americans are “all in this together” through democracy, and that the question pushed students to consider how to make improvements for all, not just their immediate community.

Baker said student engagement with the contest has fluctuated over the years, and one of his goals is to increase it.

Thirty-four students entered the contest this cycle. According to Baker, 2014 was a standout year with 63 participants, but most years range between 20 and 30.

Many of the students who participate plan to go to college, and Baker said he hopes to reach more students who don’t necessarily have this goal but are interested in the contest’s themes or in developing their writing.

Matt Clarkson, a senior at Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning and the first place winner of the 2020 contest, said he would recommend students with any career plan in mind give the contest a try.

“I think any student should … really seriously consider it because it’s a wonderful opportunity,” said Clarkson. “You’re going to grow from challenging yourself and your perspective, and trying something new, even more so if it doesn’t necessarily align with your career path.”

Clarkson said his essay discussed repealing the 26th Amendment, arguing that 18 years old may not be a high enough legal voting age, a topic he said intrigued him and led him to learn more about brain development and social media bias.

Ghidotti Early College High School sophomore Layla Mertz, whose essay was chosen for an honorable mention, said she felt the contest was a good way to strengthen her writing.

“I really liked the essay prompt,” said Mertz. “I was passionate about it, so that made me want to do it.”

She said her essay discussed the Electoral College system in favor of a popular vote was “hard to stay within the 500 words for” as she had much more to say, incorporating in-school government lessons as well as statistics and other information she found on her own.

Xavier Jaldin Hartsough, a junior at Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning and recipient of an honorable mention, said the process of considering different options for an essay topic, browsing through a pocket Constitution while doing so, was an opportunity to reflect on the impact an individual can have.

Hartsough wrote an essay proposing adults register their gender identity as a standard process of adulthood, as with driver’s licenses or voter registration, a topic he said was driven by some research on the mental health impacts of different approaches to gender in society.

He said fostering “more thoughtfulness on what you would change” is a benefit to students participating in this contest. “I think that was a really cool process and I hope that more people take part in it next year.”

Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at vpenate@theunion.com.

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