When Adam Vansant, a senior at Lakewood Ranch High School, came home with an assignment to write an essay on what the Constitution means to him, he had no idea what to write.
Vansant was on a search for inspiration when he saw his 10-year-old brother, Henry, watching “Little House on the Prairie.”
Vansant decided to sit down and watch as well. In the episode “Centennial,” the town of Walnut Grove is celebrating the 100th birthday of the U.S. when they’re reminded freedom comes at a price as a property tax was levied.
An immigrant in the episode said he was OK with paying taxes because he was in a country that gave him the freedom of speech, religion and other rights he didn’t have in his home country.
“It made me realize, especially in the current political environment, we’re so worried about policies and how it’s going to affect me, but we have these basic rights that we sometimes take for granted,” Vansant said.
He wrote about how a document that’s 233 years old is still relevant today.
“It’s an important part of our nation’s founding, and we need to have faith in the groundwork,” he said.
On Sept. 14, Vansant was announced as the third place winner of the School District of Manatee County’s Constitution Day Essay Contest during a Rotary Club of Bradenton luncheon at Pier 22 Restaurant. The prompt for the essay was “What does the Constitution mean to me?”
Owen Catlett, a Lakewood Ranch High senior, placed first and received $300. Ella Grogan, a senior at Lakewood Ranch High, received $200 for second place, and Vansant received $100 for third place.
Catlett said he was surprised to find out he was among the top five finalists and humbled by his first place win. He focused his essay on people taking freedoms for granted.
“If you ask an average American on the street, they’re not going to know the basics of the Constitution, which is the governing body of where they’re living,” he said.
When people read his essay, Catlett hopes they understand there’s more to the Constitution than they would give it at first glance.
“They don’t realize how important it is, and most people don’t know a lot about it,” he said. “It’s important to educate yourself on some of the basics and understand that it is quite a unique document historically speaking.”
After brainstorming ideas for her essay, Grogan realized the different ways the Constitution has an impact on her own life, such as the freedom of religion.
“I was raised as a Christian, and obviously, around the world many people are persecuted for that,” she said. “To be able to live in a country where I’m able to express my religion the way I want is extremely important to me.”
Writing the essay taught Grogan the importance of having a voice and gave her a newfound appreciation for the document.
“Without a voice, we would just be told what to do and how to do it,” Grogan said. “That’s not freedom. That’s the main point of the Constitution in my eyes. We’re allowed to make a difference. A 17-year-old girl from Florida, I can make a difference.”