November 9, 2013

Stanislaus County scholarship winners argue views on affirmative action

Stanislaus County winners of the 2013 American Heritage Scholarship awards all had a cogent argument on affirmative action, with three very different views taking the top honors.

Marshaling arguments on the use of affirmative action in college admissions took diligent research and some soul searching, American Heritage Scholarship winners said. The three top awards, however, went to teens who came to very different conclusions.

Arguing for advantage tied to ethnicity, Dylan Hawksworth-Lutzow said the policy should not be viewed as a burden for white students, but something that benefits the education of the whole cohort. “Everything will be unfair to someone,” he wrote in his winning essay, saying that increasing diversity offers the value of many perspectives.

During a ceremony Thursday night at the Stanislaus County Office of Education, Hawksworth-Lutzow said working on the essay forced him to dig deeply for evidence and logical argument. “You have to learn how to support your view, not only with historical precedent, but what you feel is right,” he said. Hawksworth-Lutzow, of Oakdale High, said he plans to study economics, law or political science, with an eye to a government career and possibly a presidential run.

The two runners-up wrote essays arguing against affirmative action, but for different reasons.

Adam Jensen, also of Oakdale High, took the position in his essay that the United States has moved beyond the need for advantages based on race. At the ceremony, Jensen said he hopes to be a pastor, and writing the paper helped his persuasive powers. “It really taught me how to argue articulately,” he said.

In Eliana Montalvo’s essay, she argues that lining up different races is not the best way to create educational equity. “Focus on equal opportunity in early education programs,” she said, as a more effective way than affirmative action to level the playing field.

Montalvo said she discovered the Constitution is not as prescriptive as she expected. “The Constitution has a flexibility, almost vagueness,” she said, which made interpretation from different views possible. She said her goal is to be a classically trained ballerina.

Other student winners said they planned to become lawyers, elected officials, secretary of state, chemical engineers and a Disney “imagineer.” The nine winners were chosen from more than 100 student entries.

These are the students who “dazzle us,” said Modesto City Schools Superintendent Pam Able. Able said she hopes they return to the community once they graduate college. “You stand here today as student leaders. But we’d like to see you come back and be community leaders,” she said.

The American Heritage Scholarship Program gives students a prompt each year based on a hot-button constitutional issue. In past years, students have debated topics including the role of religion in politics, whether political parties help or hinder the democratic process, and if schools should be able to limit student expression online.

“Our goal in establishing this program was to support our community in better understanding what it means to be an American,” noted Bee publisher Eric Johnston, who served as emcee.

The Modesto Bee, Modesto City Schools and the Stanislaus County Office of Education coordinate the American Heritage essay competition.

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