BURLINGTON - U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) launched his third annual State of the Union essay contest to engage Vermont's high school students on the major issues facing the country. "It's my hope that this essay contest will provide an opportunity for students to explore current issues in depth, and will help develop their critical thinking about some of the problems we face as a nation," Sanders wrote in a letter sent to Vermont's educators. So far, during the past two years, more than 500 students from schools throughout Vermont wrote essays to the senator about such important issues as the declining middle class, climate change, health care reform, and the rising cost of a college education. A panel of Vermont high school teachers will judge the essays. The winning and finalist essays will be entered into the Congressional Record and posted on the senator's website. The winner will also have the opportunity to have Sanders visit their school to hold a student town meeting to discuss the state of the union and the future of our country. Further, the finalists will have the opportunity to participate in a roundtable discussion with Sanders. The U.S. Constitution calls for the president to "give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." As the president prepares his State of the Union speech for delivery in late January to a joint session of Congress, Sanders' essay contest asks Vermont's high school students to write an essay of 250 words to 500 words about their view of the "state of the union.

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" "We need our young people to be engaged, to help find solutions for the problems that confront us, and to think about the future of our country. That's what democracy is all about," Sanders said. The deadline for student essays submissions is noon on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013. More information can be found on the senator's webpage at http://www.sanders.senate .gov/stateoftheunion.