WASHINGTON – U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy announced fifteen-year-old student Uma Menon of Winter Park, Fla. as the winner of her State of the Union essay contest. Launched earlier this month, the contest provided high school students from Florida’s Seventh Congressional District with the opportunity to attend the State of the Union address by submitting a 500-word essay on the importance of youth civic engagement. Murphy, who was recently elected chair of Future Forum, an influential group of young House Democrats who advocate for issues and opportunities important to younger Americans, is using this historic occasion to elevate the voices of young people in her district. Menon’s essay, which was reviewed by a group of local educators, focused on the historical importance of youth-led movements, including in the current political debate. She will attend President Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, February 5th at 9:00 P.M as Murphy’s guest.
“Uma’s essay showed a deep understanding of the impact young voices like hers can have in our political discourse. As she joins me next week to be a part of this annual ceremony, I hope she has the chance to share with other leaders her generation’s vision for building a better and more prosperous future,” said Murphy. “As Chair of Future Forum, I will keep working to elevate and empower young people in my district and across the country who are making a difference.”
Winter Park High School student Uma Menon
“I am thrilled to have this opportunity to travel to Washington and be a part of the historic tradition that is the State of the Union. I want to thank Congresswoman Murphy for giving me the chance to come to our nation’s capital to experience this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Menon. “I look forward to listening to the President’s speech and share why I believe more leaders in Congress need to pay close attention to the next generation of leaders.”
Menon is a junior at Winter Park High School, where she is an AP Scholar with Distinction and is part of the school’s International Baccalaureate (IB) Program. She serves as vice president of her school’s speech and debate team and is nationally-ranked in Lincoln-Douglas Debate, receiving a Special Distinction from the National Speech and Debate Honor Society. Uma is also a published writer who was recently named the winner of National Poetry Quarterly’s High School Contest. Her first poetry chapbook was published in 2019 by Zoetic Press. She also studies piano performance and music composition at Rollins College Community School.
Menon is also extremely engaged in her community. She is a Florida Regional President for the Future Business Leaders of America, a member of the Winter Park Youth Leaders Class XVII, and a Student Senator for Winter Park High School’s IB Program. She also serves as a student advisor for CollegeBoard’s Access to Education Youth Council and has been engaged in activism on issues such as gun control, net neutrality, and support for marginalized groups. She is passionate about making a difference in the world and hopes to serve her country through a career in public service.
A copy of Uma’s winning essay can be found below:
Some mornings, I throw a political t-shirt over my head before I walk out of the house. An equality shirt when I’m feeling powerless, a reform shirt when I want change, or maybe a candidate’s shirt on election day. These small acts make me feel powerful regardless of my age and allow me to express my beliefs to make a change. Those mornings, I leave the house with pride and without fear of reprimand, thanks to student activists who came fifty years before me. After all, it is because of the young students who led the Free Speech movement and unabashedly wore black protest bands that I am able to wear political t-shirts, express my beliefs, and assemble with other students at school today. Over the years, civic-minded youth activists have created formidable change, whether it was through the landmark Tinker v. Des Moines Case, or through the more recent Never Again MSD (Marjory Stoneman Douglas) movement.
Youth civic engagement is extremely important because young Americans represent the future of America. A few decades from now, one of us will be delivering the State of the Union. It is the voice of the youth that America listens to today, and is the voice of the youth that America must listen to tomorrow. History has shown that youth-powered civic movements are often the most effective; prominent organizations such as United We Dream and Black Lives Matter were founded by young Americans. Many important policies on labor, segregation, civil rights, and immigration have also been passed as a result of youth engagement. The youth-led gun control movement, sparked by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, created unprecedented change: over fifty laws were passed across the nation within six months of the shooting. This fervor and dedication of young Americans is unmatched, making civic engagement all the more powerful. Youth bring a fresh voice and energy to discourse that allows for greater problem-solving.
Studies indicate that civic engagement is extremely beneficial both for youth and their communities. Civic engagement influences student’s future success, reduces disparities, and improves their health. It creates well-connected communities and a more democratic society. Volunteering, protesting, and voting are all part of civic engagement and allow young Americans from all walks of life to participate in their communities. A healthy democracy requires participation of its citizens, especially young Americans who must be prepared to engage, contribute, and lead the nation.
For young Americans, civic engagement brings greater appreciation of the community and understanding of the various challenges that the community faces. Civic engagement has the potential to leave long-lasting impressions on young Americans, making them stronger leaders who are more likely to contribute to their communities in the future. It is the children of America who will be living through the political and community decisions that are made in the present, whether it be environmental, domestic, or international policy. Without civic engagement, American democracy will cease to flourish.