Essay finalists include (L-R) Samantha Grady, Abigail Coniguliaro, Grayson Marshall, Larry Thomas, Josie Cameron, Janice Hope Johnston and Gianna Gerard.
The second annual contest’s award luncheon was in Bay Breeze Restaurant in Hendersonville.
The essay theme this time was quite specific — on symbolism of Thomas Jefferson’s concept for a national seal. Grady emphasized symbols of democracy and religious principles.
Home-schooled students dominated in entries and by taking four of the top five honors. Also, four of the five are sophomores.
Samantha Grady, 15, is home-schooled by her mother Anjie Grady in their Mills River home. Anjie has a teaching degree, and has taught school. She received $500 — $250 each as the top winner’s main social studies teacher and for the family’s home school academy.
Samantha said Rebecca Byrd and Lisa Dillon also regularly teach her. A dozen adults pool instruction for about 60 students, in the Classical Scholars home school cooperative, Anjie Grady noted.
Second place and $1,000 went to Abigail Coniguliaro, 16, of Hendersonville. Her mother Suzanne instructs her. She is a debate team partner of Hannah Grady, Samantha’s sister who won the top contest prize a year ago.
Third place ended in a three-way tie, with each getting a $300 check. Gianna Gerard, 15, is in the Henderson County Early College/High School joint curriculum in 10th grade. Her history teacher is Matt Witt. Grayson Marshall, at 18 the eldest finalist, is a senior home-schooled by Scott Clifton. Larry Thomas, 15, is home-schooled by Tamara Thomas. Thomas is the lone entrant to repeat in the top three.
The 10 finalists included North Henderson High sophomores Josie Cameron, Matthew Gregoire and Li-Chu Wong; West Henderson junior Janice Hope Johnston and Hendersonville High junior Karen Sanchez. They were awarded certificates.
Ron Kauffman and Henry Leissing co-founded the Sentinel Patriot Club two years ago, to tout constitutional rights and heritage. They praised the essayist youths’ patriotic attitudes. The essayists show “we have a beautifully truth-seeking next generation,” Leissing said.
Kauffman noted judges rated Samantha Grady’s essay as a clear winner across the board —such as for writing style, accuracy and message.
She read with clarity and conviction her essay entitled “The Seal of Fortitude,” which is what Jefferson called his proposed seal. Grady started by quoting “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” She stated “This is America. This is the home our founding fathers birthed. This is the emblem over our hearts and our nation.”
She chronicled the founding fathers’ development of a seal for the then-new nation. The national bird — the eagle — was chosen, over Thomas Jefferson’s emblem. She noted he wanted “the Seal to reflect the Anglo-Saxon and Israelite governments, in whose footsteps he wanted America to be led.” He considered “the hand of God” to have formed Israel much earlier and now the United States.
Specifically, he mirrored a “People’s Law.” This drew on “inalienable rights” and “Individual responsibility with regional government involvement as a last resort” from the Brits, and ancient Israelites’ focus on liberty and democratically electing their leaders, Grady wrote.
She quotes Jefferson as espousing “self-government” and stating, “We established some important principles. The constitutions of most of our States assert that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves, in all cases to which they think themselves competent…”
Jefferson wanted the seal’s imagery to reflect the two ancient culture’s governments, she noted. The front has a labyrinth symbolizing “Israelites wandering through the desert with God’s cloud leading their way by day, and His pillar of fire by night.” The back side shows profiles of Hengist and Horsa, England’s two founders of Anglo-Saxon Common Law.
Grady closed her essay by reiterating the nation’s democratic and religious foundation — which she told The Tribune has been increasingly challenged such as by court decisions.
She quoted Lincoln’s insistence that “This nation under God will have a new birth of freedom; and that the government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
Samantha Grady said she worked on the essay “off and on, for a few weeks.” She mainly revised the essay to boost grammar, not content.
All winners are eligible to enter the contest in future years. But Hannah Grady decided to let others vie for the top, and her sister won. Others may feel relief that the next-eldest of the family’s seven children is age 11, and thus a few years away from the contest.
Hannah, 17, is earning an international business degree online through Liberty University, expecting to finish next summer. She is dedicating to debate, earning a top-30 national ranking ahead of the national high school home-schooler debate tourney in mid-May at Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C.
Hannah Grady also revved up the crowd, as featured speaker. She told how the contest helped her express her values and develop research and leadership skills. She urged her peers to back political candidates who adhere to constitutional rights to “keep our country grounded in moral founding principles, and preserve our nation’s integrity for future generations.”
She told The Tribune she prefers to avoid running for an office someday, fearing she would have to over-compromise her stances. She prefers to help educate people on core issues, and “motivate” them to vote and be involved in their community.
Hendersonville City Mgr. John Connet joined these returning essay contest judges: District Atty. Greg Newman, Hendersonville Mayor Barbara Volk, Carl Sandburg Home Supt. Tyrone Brandyburg, Blue Ridge Community College history professor Dr. Russ Foster, Caroline Patterson who directs public schools’ English and social studies in grades 6-12, and Hope, Inc. founder-CEO Denise Williams.
For more on the contest’s non-profit sponsor, check SentinelPatriot.com.