Three Verona Area High School students were named as finalists, or earned an Honorable Mention accolade, in the annual New York Times student editorial contest.

Senior Jakob Oehler, junior Jackson Puent and sophomore Julia Fechner submitted their editorials as a part of their AP Language and Composition class, according to an email from VAHS teacher Debra Breunig. Their essays joined more than 7,300 entries from around the world. The New York Times announced the around 170 winners of the seventh annual contest June 17.

Oehler’s editorial, titled “A Tear in the Union,” was awarded an Honorable Mention, given out to 24 high school contestants. Puent and Fechner were both finalists with their essays “Music is Under Attack” and “The Boys,” respectively.

The contest asks students ages 10-19 to submit an editorial on something they care about, in 450 words or fewer using evidence-based arguments, according to NYT’s submission page. One source in a student’s editorial must come from NYT, as well as a non-NYT source that has credibility.

This year’s contest started in late February, as confirmed cases of COVID-19 increased around the world, the announcement from the NYT read. As a result, many of the submitted essays took on different aspects of the coronavirus and its impact on teenage life.

“For many, it added urgency to the social justice issues that already mattered to them, and they wrote passionately through a coronavirus lens about racism and xenophobia, income inequality, prison reform, hunger, homelessness, voting rights, the digital divide, climate change and more,” NYT staff wrote in the announcement. “For others, it presented new questions to think about, from the rights of front line workers to the problem of toilet-paper hoarding.”

The three VAHS students recognized for their work wrote on political divisions, copyright law and harmful male expectations.

Oehler’s editorial, “A Tear in the Union,” speaks to the damage that political tribalism – often seen as picking a political platform or idea and refusing to consider other ideas – does to people’s interpersonal relationships and limits people’s options for governing.

In his editorial, Oehler argues that a fractured society created by political tribalism leads to increased conflict, crime and violence.

“If we want to begin to heal the divide between our polarized country, we have to be conscious of the tribalistic tendencies we are often unconsciously drawn to and make an effort to stop them,” Oehler wrote. “The fate of our democracy and the well being of our society relies on a degree of unity, and in order for unity to take place we need to allow ourselves to be open and considerate to those we may already be inclined to disagree with.”

In Puent’s editorial “Music is Under Attack,” he discusses “stealing” within the music industry and what rules should guide copyright law.

Puent references a copyright infringement case from 2019, where pop artist Katy Perry was accused of stealing portions of a Christian rap song published in 2009, stating that the sounds that make up the basics of music shouldn’t be able to be copyrighted.

“The idea that the claimants had ownership of the descending minor chord melody found in the two songs is ludicrous; there are numerous pieces of music throughout history that use this same tune,” Puent wrote. “To compare it to visual art, situations involving the claimed ownership of chord progressions and basic melodies are similar to if a painter claimed to have been the first to use blue, green, and purple, and therefore, no one else should be able to do so without their permission.”

Fechner’s editorial focuses on how older ideas of masculinity – body image expectations and concealing emotions – are damaging to young boys and their self-image.

In her editorial, Fechner argues that images in the media of “perfect male imagery” lowers boys’ self-esteem in the same way it does for girls, and that phases such as “man up” and “boys don’t cry” have had a negative impact on boys.

“In order to maintain an unspoken notion of ‘manliness,’ young boys are constantly told to conceal their emotions,” Fechner wrote. “These standards create a damaging environment for boys, leaving them stranded and not able to open up about their feelings. Growing up surrounded with these ideals engrains this mentality of ‘masculinity’ into young boys.”

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal


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