Interest in current issues, politics and writing are among the passions shared by the trio of teens who won this year’s inaugural White Plains Democratic Committee’s essay contest.
Emiliano Juarez, who will be entering his sophomore year at White Plains High School in September, won first place and the $500 grand prize in the competition that asked entrants in 1,000 words or less to write their own inauguration address.
The second- and third-place finishers were Gabriel Korin, who will be a junior at White Plains High school, and Ian Rutledge, a senior at Archbishop Stepinac High School, who received $250 and $100 prizes, respectively.
The top three finishers all met Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-White Plains) and talk about their work and the issues that they care about during a luncheon last Saturday at Via Garibaldi restaurant.
Juarez said had been looking forward to meeting Jones since learning he had won the contest in late May.
“I’ve always been involved in politics and I love to talk about it with my friends and family and I just thought it would be a really great experience for me to be able to meet somebody of such importance in White Plains because he represents us and it’s an amazing opportunity that I actually got to meet him,” said Juarez, who is thinking about becoming a doctor.
Using recent presidential inauguration speeches as his guide, Juarez wrote his essay questioning what the United States’ values are at this point in history.
Korin, who said he developed a love for writing during last summer when largely stuck at home during the pandemic, learned of the contest from his parents. He wrote a speech about the state of the nation’s current politics and some of the steps that should be addressed, particularly educating citizens about the power that ordinary people have to make change.
Initially, he didn’t think that his work was what the judges were looking for.
“When I heard that I was one of the winners, it really put a smile to my face because it kind of reminded me my writing does have some value out there, and that was a big confidence booster,” he said.
Korin said he finds it intriguing how many representatives in government can be people that are simultaneously admired and ordinary.
“I think what interests me about (politics) specifically is sort of the interaction between representatives and common person because I think that it’s very multi-layered in how we perceive, I guess, representatives because in some cases we see them just like another person but at other times they can be like a leader that we look up to,” Korin said.
Rutledge said he entered the competition since he is part of the law academy at Stepinac. He said he felt it was his responsibility to take a shot at it once he found out about it.
“It comprised mainly of issues that plague society such as climate change to education and it proposed solutions and a call to action of civilians all across the nation as to how they can get involved and respond to these conflicts,” Rutledge said of his work.
Jones said before the lunch that he was interested in what the students had to say and what was on their minds.
“It reminds me when I was in high school and it was clear then, based on the people who were involved in the local community, who would go on and try to give back, and that’s why I’m so excited to meet these young students today,” Jones said.
Tim James, the chair of the White Plains Democratic Committee, which oversaw the contest, said there were 29 entrants. That’s a pretty good start for a new contest during a pandemic when not all students were attending school in person, he said.
The competition was open to any high school student who either lived in or went to school in White Plains. There were eight judges, seven White Plains Democratic district leaders as well as a member of Jones’ congressional staff.
“We were very happy with it and we definitely plan to continue it, and all the more so hearing from the winners today and how they felt about it,” James said.