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Two Oak Ridge High School Students Win in Nation's Largest Essay Contest

ARLINGTON, VA -Two Oak Ridge High School students beat out more than 24,000 other participants for top spots in America's largest high school essay contest conducted by the Bill of Rights Institute.

Representing the Pacific Region, Michael Tharratt, a junior at Oak Ridge High School, earned First Placeand $5,000 in the fifth annual Being an American Essay Contest. Jamie Merritt, also a junior at Oak Ridge High School, earned an Honorable Mention and $100. The national competition is sponsored by the Bill of Rights Institute, an educational nonprofit based near Washington, D.C.

Tharratt and Merritt's sponsoring teacher, Matthew Hodgins, received matching cash prizes.

In addition to the cash prizes, Tharratt and Hodgins also won paid trips to the nation's capital, where they were honored on March 22 at an awards gala emceed by Juan Williams and featuring a keynote address by John Stossel. The Washington, D.C. trip also included a Capitol Hill luncheon and tours of the U.S. Capitol, Supreme Court, and National Archives.

"The Being an American Essay Contest encourages students to see how vital it is to the future of our country and Constitution that they live out key civic values every day," said Bill of Rights Institute Vice President of Education Programs Jason Ross. "By thinking about the civic values evident in our Founding documents and in the lives of American heroes, students can begin to see how their own actions are significant in supporting the experiment in self-government started by our Founders."

More than 80,000 students attending public and private high schools, and home-schooled students from all 50 states, have participated in the Being an American Essay Contest to date, with nearly half-a-million dollars in prize money being awarded to winning students and their teachers.

"The Being an American Essay Contest is a wonderful way to awaken students' interest in the ideas of the American Founding. The Stuart Family Foundation is honored to be one of the Contest's supporters," said Stuart Family Foundation Executive Director Truman Anderson.

The 2010-2011 contest's sponsors include the Stuart Family Foundation, Lake Forest, Ill; the Jack Miller Family Foundation, Buffalo Grove, Ill.; the History Channel, New York, N.Y.; The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Milwaukee; Koch Industries, Wichita, Kan.; DonorsTrust, Alexandria, V.A.; and the Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C. (A complete list of contest sponsors is available here.

To participate, students were asked to share their thoughts on American citizenship by answering the following question: "What civic value do you believe is most essential to being an American?" By encouraging students to consider and weigh American values, the Essay Contest serves as a key part of the Bill of Rights Institute's mission to educate young people about the words and ideas of America's Founders, the liberties guaranteed in our Founding documents, and how our Founding principles continue to affect and shape a free society.

In his winning essay, Tharratt selected "self-reliance" as the civic value topic of his essay and thought Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father, scientist, and inventor, most embodied the American character. In his essay, Tharratt wrote, "Dependency is a rot hidden at the core of any civilization...This holds true for all aspects of a society, and an individual as well. The cure for dependency, however, is at the heart of American ideals: self-reliance; the ability to prosper and forward oneself though faith in oneself, and through one's own actions."

In her winning essay, Merritt selected "justice" as the civic value topic of her essay and thought Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights advocate and great orator, most embodied the American character. In her essay, Merritt wrote, "The moral values of the Bill of Rights, the embodiment of equality by Martin Luther King Jr., and the practice of fairness in everyday life prove that justice is essential to being a true American."

More information on the Being an American Essay Contest can be found at

Founded in 1999, the Bill of Rights Institute is a nonprofit educational organization. The mission of the Bill of Rights Institute is to educate young people about the words and ideas of America's Founders, the liberties guaranteed in America's Founding documents, and how the Founding principles continue to affect and shape a free society.

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