After honing her letter-to-the-editor skills in Kody Partridge’s English 11 class, junior Laura Summerfield took that lesson to the next level: she entered and won Westminster College's annual Honors College Statewide Essay Contest. Read her winning essay in The Salt Lake Tribune.
Laura—an aspiring journalist herself—penned the persuasive piece in response to the following prompt: “Write an essay (600 words or less) that explores the role played by media in promoting or impeding civility in our political and civic discourse. In an age of Twitter and ‘fake news,’ what responsibility does the media have to encourage civility?”
My generation may be one of the last that remembers civility in politics unless we do something to reignite it.—Laura Summerfield, Class of 2020
The contest drew 85 entrants from 22 high schools across Utah, according to Westminster Honors College Dean Richard Badenhausen. A distinguished, bipartisan panel of five judges (a former Salt Lake City mayor, an acclaimed author, a lobbyist, a professor, and a Trib reporter) evaluated 13 finalists. Although it was an extremely close contest—Laura won by one point—her essay was the only one that appeared on every judge’s ballot.
Westminster held the contest in conjunction with a March 19 lecture by New York Times Op-Ed Editor James Dao. Laura received her prize, a $2,000 check, that evening, and the Trib published her piece not long after.
“When I received the email telling me I had won, I literally didn't believe it,” Laura said. “Even when my essay was in the Trib, I didn't believe it. I still don't believe it.”
I want students to know that their words matter to me and to others.—Upper School English Teacher Kody Partridge
Incredulous as she may be, there’s no denying that Laura—thanks in part to family discussions and Kody’s class—was well prepared to respond to this year’s prompt. “The topic resonated with me because my family's go-to pre-dinner, dinner, and post-dinner programming is the news and political talk shows, so I knew the state of our political climate,” Laura said. “This topic is important because my generation may be one of the last that remembers civility in politics unless we do something to reignite it.”
Kody attended the March event to support Laura and hear the lecture. Though Laura didn’t write the award-winning essay specifically for Kody’s class, the beloved Upper School teacher of over 16 years has a unit that covers writing letters to the editor, and respectfully and compellingly voicing opinions outside of the classroom. “I want students to know that their words matter to me and to others,” Kody said. The lesson certainly got through to Laura, and Kody is a proud teacher. “Laura is a talented writer and a thoughtful young woman,” she said. “It was a fantastic letter.”
Pictured, top: Laura and Kody at the March 16 event.