Cedar High student named a winner in statewide essay contest posing questions for V.P. candidate debate

Kingsbury Hall on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City, site of the U.S. vice presidential debate held on Oct. 7, 2020 | Image courtesy of University of Utah Communications Department, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — A Cedar High School sophomore was one of four statewide winners in an essay contest that asked entrants to write a question for consideration at last week’s U.S. vice presidential debate.

At the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Oct. 7, Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris faced off in their only scheduled debate before the Nov. 3 election.

In anticipation of the event, the Utah Debate Commission, along with the Utah State Board of Education, held a statewide essay contest that posed the question: “If you could ask the vice presidential candidates one question, what would you ask and why?” Responses were limited to 300 words.

Brooklyn Larsen of Cedar City, whose entry was a 155-word question about the importance in-person school has on students’ mental well-being during the pandemic, was selected by judges as the statewide high school winner. Three other winners were also chosen: one from an elementary school student, a middle school student and a college undergraduate.

Although Larsen’s question wasn’t actually used by the moderator during the debate, it was posted on the University of Utah’s website and published in both the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News.

Brooklyn Larsen, a sophomore at Cedar High School, Cedar City, Utah. Date and location of photo not specified. | Image courtesy of Brooklyn Larsen, St. George News / Cedar City News

Larsen told Cedar City News that while her question was not read at the actual debate, she hopes the issue of mental health will be given due attention, both by whomever is elected in November and the country at large. 

“I hope that my question spreads awareness to all those who read it and that one day, we can show those who lead our country that this needs to be regarded as an issue that can’t be ignored,” she said.

Larsen said she first found out she’d been selected as a contest winner during school a little more than a month ago, when she was called to the office without knowing why.

“I was working on a test in a class when the intercom went off and a secretary called me down to the principal’s office,” she said. “I was a little confused as to why I was being called down to the office, and when I went down there, Mrs. Sanders, the principal, greeted me with a smile. She was so excited for me and said that I had won. It took me a minute to realize what she was talking about.”

Larsen said she reacted with excitement and disbelief upon hearing she’d won the essay contest.

“I could hardly comprehend what was happening,” she said. “This was one of the greatest accomplishments of my life, and I couldn’t get myself to believe that this was actually happening.”

As she watched the debate on television last week, Larsen said she felt that Pence emerged as the winner in her eyes.

“I believe Pence spoke many truths about the studies of COVID and discussed how we can move forward, reopening society and returning our lives to normal, rather than just shutting our country down once again,” she said. “He also spoke professionally and reassuringly, proving his views to be true and disproving many statements made by Kamala Harris, who appeared to not make any promises regarding the issues of this country.”

Larsen said that although she recognizes and respects the fact that many people believe differently than she does, in her opinion, “Pence is the winning vice presidential candidate and will serve the country well should he be re-elected as vice president.”

Putting the question into the perspective of her own reality, Larsen said being back in the classroom for in-person learning this fall has been a welcome change for her and many of her fellow students.

“I believe in-person school has really helped me, as well as the rest of the student body at Cedar High. From my personal experience, my mental health has improved, and I’ve been happier with daily social interaction and physical activity, something I didn’t have the opportunity to do in online school.”

Larsen participates in various clubs and activities at CHS, including sports such as cross-country and basketball. Her favorite classes are foods, seminary and language arts. In fact, she said, winning the essay contest has sparked her interest in a possible career in English, communications or writing.

Below is Larsen’s winning essay in its entirety. To see a those of the three other statewide winners, click here.

As a national student body, and a worldwide collective group of youth, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted us and our way of life. The youth of this country have struggled greatly with the closure of our educational system as well as the closure of extracurricular activities. There are in fact millions of cases of suicide, depression, or some other form of mental issue since the beginning of the closure. Nearly half of all Americans have and continue to be affected mentally by the pandemic. What do you believe the United States can do to reduce these high levels of anxiety and depression? How can we as a youth collective remain positive and happy when the pandemic is suspending in-person education systems as well as social aspects and opportunities?

In-person school generates an increase in emotional well-being for the youth, but not everyone has the freedom to attend given our current situation state-wide and nationally.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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