Several area high school students have been honored for their essays on bullying in the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Bill of Rights Essay Contest.
The event, marking the 220th Anniversary of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution and held at St. Paul’s Church in Mount Vernon, a national historic site, was sponsored by the Lower Hudson Valley Chapter of the NYCLU at its annual celebration of Bill of Rights Day.
The winners were joined by students and teachers from Clarkstown North High School in New City, Nellie A. Thornton High School in Mount Vernon and Hendrick Hudson High School in Montrose.
The selection of St. Paul’s Church as the site of the celebration is significant. It was at this location in 1733 following a controversial election which ultimately led to a significant victory for freedom and religion.
The program opened with remarks from David Osborne, Site Director of St. Paul’s Historic Site, and Mount Vernon City Councilwoman Roberta Apuzzo. Next, ten students were each asked to read aloud one of the amendments that make up The Bill of Rights.
Jim Bostic, executive director of Nepperhan Community Center in Yonkers, then delivered the keynote address. He shared with the students his heartfelt story of growing up as a foster child, who was targeted by bullies for being short, overweight, and fashion-challenged.
He spoke of how the harassment increased after a thrown iceball cost him the sight in one eye. The students were riveted by his story of defeat and ultimate triumph. The young tormented Bostic grew tall and lean and went on to excel as a basketball player at New Mexico State University and then as a player in the National Basketball Association.
He urged the audience to “celebrate diversity and respect, watch the world unfold before your eyes, it’s a beautiful place to live in.”
Next, Ralph Stein, professor of Law at Pace University, led the students in a discussion about bullying and the role schools should play. One Thornton student shared that she was able to transform her experience as a victim into becoming a “stronger individual who is resilient,” Stein noted, however that, while some people rebound from a bad experience and become stronger, “...not everyone is a Tom Paine.”
Awards were presented to winners of the Bill of Rights Essay Contest. This year’s contest asked students to consider how school administrators should address bullying.
Present to read their winning essays to the crowd and receive their awards were Robert Liebowitz of Tuckahoe High School (first place), Alex Linkoff of Clarkstown North High School (second place), and Yassine El Yousfi of Nellie A. Thornton High School (best-in-school). Andrew Kim of Clarkstown South High School, also a best-in school winner, was unable to attend.