- Associated Press - Friday, January 24, 2014

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - A junior at Mount Anthony Union High School in Bennington has won U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders‘ annual State of the Union essay-writing contest.

Alexina Federhen took first place out of 380 students from 26 Vermont high schools who participated, Sanders, an independent from Vermont, announced Friday.

Federhen wrote that 2013 was a difficult year for the country.

“Nature brought death and disaster by fire, wind, and water; four prominent banks used unethical methods to deprive Americans of their homes; numerous individuals, businesses, and the city of Detroit hit financial rock bottom,” she wrote.

But she said Americans weathered the tragedies “with the same determination, innovation, and cooperation that has enabled us to overcome depressions, recessions, wars, and disasters in the past. We pull up our boot straps, plant our feet firmly in the direction of progress, and extend a helping hand to those in need.”

Students were to write about how they view the state of the union, and five teachers judged the essays. Twenty finalists were chosen.

Second place went to Katharine Mayo of Twinfield Union High School and tied for third were Robert “Will” Aldrich of Mount Abraham Union High School and Brian Townley of Woodstock Union High School.

The winning essay and the finalists will be published in the Congressional Record. Sanders also will meet with the students during a round-table discussion Feb. 1 at Vermont Public Television in Colchester.

“The discussion about where our country needs to go in the future should not be limited to Washington,” Sanders said. “We also need to hear the voices of young Vermonters. They are the future of our country and they need to be thinking about how we can best address the problems we face.”

President Barack Obama is to give the annual State of the Union address Tuesday.

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