When Lemon Grove eighth graders Steven Soto, Destiny Alvarado and Eric Rodriguez sat down to write their 1,500-word essays on the U.S. Constitution, they took on one of the hottest topics in a continuing national debate over the meaning of our primary founding documents.
The three 13-year-olds contended for prizes in the Lemon Grove Historical Society's Annual 8th Grade History Essay Competition, an event that is linked to the Lemon Grove School District's History and English curricula for eighth grade.
Awards night will be Jan. 22 at 6 p.m. at the school board meeting in the Community Center, 3140 School Lane, Lemon Grove.
First prize will go to Soto, a student of Frank Wulftange at Lemon Grove Academy for the Sciences & Humanities. Soto titled his essay "We the People" and focused on the Constitution as the heir to the 1777 Articles of Confederation and the vehicle for developing a strong, balanced government. He cited major constitutional amendments from 1795 to 1992 that help "the system work up to this very day."
He argued that modern government is increasing its power over the individual and warned that, eventually, the Constitution might be largely ignored. He cited the contending viewpoints of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, compared the U.S. Constitution with the fledgling effort in contemporary Egypt, and touchingly wrote, "I find it hard to understand what life [would be] like without these rights because I have had them my whole life."
Second prize will go to Alvarado, a student of History teacher Doris Christopher and English teacher Denise Hernandez at Vista La Mesa Academy.
Alvarado's essay, "A Living Document," opened with Patrick Henry's famous phrase, "Give me liberty or give me death." Her closely argued thesis held that though the Constitution was written when "airplanes and terrorists were not concerns," it remains a "timeless document [that] continues to grow with society."
She criticized the Electoral College, cited several Amendments bearing upon free assembly and search and seizure, and discussed the nature of individualism within a nation of laws. She praised the "elastic clause" that enables Congress "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper."
Third prize winner Eric Rodriguez, also a student of Frank Wulftange at Lemon Grove Academy, was an unabashed patriot in his essay, "U.S. Constitution."
He declared the Constitution not simply a "formal document," but the instrument that "lets our families have freedom, liberty and privacy." He argued in favor of the system of checks and balances that prevents dictatorship and excessive power in any one branch of government. As an example he wrote, "If the President selects a criminal to be an Ambassador with an inadequate background, the senate then has the power to declare if he or she is able to be an Ambassador."
Part of the mission of the Lemon Grove Historical Society is to foster interest in historical studies among children and youth. The two annual history essay competitions for third and eighth grades were inspired by the late Dr. Amorita Treganza (1912 - 2002), the distinguished children's optometrist, former president of the Historical Society and the first Miss Lemon Grove in 1928.