MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday announced the Vermont high school winners of his annual State of the Union essay contest.

The 11th annual contest was a chance for students around the state to describe pressing issues that they would prioritize as president of the United States, Sanders’ office said.

First place went to William Taggard, a junior at Brattleboro Union High School, who wrote about changing the presidential election process. Emilia De Jounge, a sophomore at Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester, won second place for her essay on gun violence and third place went to Simon Rosenbaum, a junior at the Vermont Commons School in South Burlington, who focused on the need to strengthen the country’s democratic institutions.

A total of 319 students from 42 Vermont high schools submitted essays, Sanders’ office said. A panel of six Vermont teachers judged the essays and picked eight finalists and three winners.

“During a year that has been immensely challenging for teachers, students, and families, I could not be more proud that students from all across Vermont took the time to participate in this year’s essay contest,” said Sanders, an independent and member of the Senate Education Committee, in a written statement. “The subjects these young people wrote about are not the stuff of history books, they are issues they are living through themselves, including an unprecedented health and economic crisis, a renewed fight for racial justice, and threats to our democracy.”

Sanders will enter the finalists’ essays into the Congressional Record and has invited the finalists to join him for a roundtable discussion, which will be held virtually because of the pandemic.

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