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Youth essay award

April 08, 2002|BY STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

John Robertson knows how to make his voice heard.

The 15-year-old sophomore at St. Maria Goretti High School in Hagerstown may not be able to vote, but he was still able to make a statement about American government in an essay that won local, state and national recognition.

"I think it is a good idea to try and know what is going on with your country. Even as a kid you do have a voice," John said.

The Chambersburg teen submitted his essay - called "What is right with America? A Student's Perspective" - for his modern U.S. history class last fall. His teacher entered the students' essays in a contest sponsored by Morris Frock American Legion Auxiliary Unit 42 in Hagerstown, which selected John's as the winning entrant.

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"Our government, for all of its faults, is one of the fairest and most stable in the world," John wrote. "Each person has a right to say or think whatever he or she wants to. ... You are a citizen, a person."

His words went on to win at the state and national level, and earned John a place among 50 youths from across the country who attended a three-day conference in Valley Forge, Pa., in mid-March.

The Freedom Foundation Conference allowed students to interact with experts on current issues of citizenship, tour Philadelphia and Valley Forge and attend seminars on developing leadership skills, said Linda Caudell, president of the auxiliary.

Caudell said the number of entries in the essay contest was higher than in the past.

"I think maybe it's due to the fact Sept. 11 is still very much in everybody's mind. I think students this year and in years to come will be more conscious of patriotism and the things around them," she said.

John said current events and government have always interested him.

He said he loved everything about last month's conference, including the mock trials and guest speakers.

During one activity, John said he was part of a group that had to write regulations on the right to search student vehicles on school grounds.

They came up with ideas such as the vehicle could not be searched unless there was probable cause and that the student has the right to be present during the search, which must be carried out by a trained school administrator or police officer.

When writing the essay that landed him a spot at the convention, John said he "tried to look at what set America apart through its government."

That included a democratic system with programs to help people like Social Security and the right to a fair trial.

"These are really important, especially now," he said. "The economy is fluctuating, and I went into the fact the government will help people if they get in trouble."

John said he tried to ignore naysayers and focus on the positives of the U.S. government.

"People say taxes are stealing. For the most part it is for the greater good," he said. "I don't think there really is anything (I would change). Except I wish we could take the money out of politics - we would get more honesty."

John said eventually he would like to teach high school English and work in computer science.

In the meantime, he keeps busy with guitar lessons, Drama Club, Boy Scouts and the varsity swim team.

His parents are Ann and Roger Robertson of Chambersburg.

He has a brother, Tom, 13.

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