As part of the American Dream Essay Contest, 560 Wyoming high school students wrote poignant essays about how their lives have been shaped by a personal code of ethics, and a total of $36,150 was given in educational awards. The local first place winners from schools throughout the state met at the state competition on Sunday, April 16, 2023, in Casper for the awards ceremony. First, second, and third place state winners and two honorable mentions were announced and received cash prizes. The American Dream Essay Contest is run by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Wyoming and took place at the Ramkota Hotel in Casper.
The top essay at the state level was written by Tiana Barton from Natrona County High School. Tiana’s touching essay, “Fueled by Love,” detailed the courage she lives with each day as a teen mother who chose to keep her child. Tiana received $5,000, in addition to her local earnings of $300. Her teacher sponsor, Rebecca Sondag, will be receiving an additional $1,000, earning a total of $2,300 through this year’s contest.
Dellana Michelena, of Arvada-Clearmont High School, wrote the second-place essay, “To Be Proud,” and received $3,000, in addition to her local earnings of $300. Her essay shares a touching account of how an influential aunt inspired her to take pride in her work. Her teacher sponsor, Betsy Mack, will receive an additional $750, totaling $1,550 through this year’s contest.
The American Dream Essay Contest’s third place winner was Dana Porter from Kelly Walsh High School. Her essay, “Children are Fearless,” describes her courageous choice to remove herself and her little brother from a dangerous family situation. She received $2,000; her teacher sponsor, Bryce Flammang, received an additional $500, earning $1,200 total through the contest.
Two honorable mention winners—Rivers Robinson from Tongue River High School and Melisa Martinez from Riverside High School—each received $1,000. Their teacher sponsors were Andee Marcure and Travis Rapp, respectively.
The American Dream Essay contest has impacted the lives of youth for over 21 years in Wyoming. Students have experienced life-changing discoveries about who they are and their future potential. The American Dream Essay Contest is centered on “Ten Principles to Live By,” as highlighted in the book, Cowboy Ethics, by bestselling author Jim Owens. Every high school and homeschool student in grades 9-12 was invited to participate by reflecting on the Ten Principles (or their personal ethical beliefs), and writing an essay based on these guiding forces.
“The work these students invested in their writing is a true reflection of each person’s interpretation, definition, and application of the principles outlined in Jim Owen’s Code of the West. Their essays convey their astute perception of Cowboy Ethics and what it means to have an American Dream,” said Vanessa Warner, American Dream Essay Contest Coordinator.
This contest is a completely voluntary event. Teachers who participate make time for it within their current lesson plans and make it a point to encourage their students to participate. They are compensated for full-class participation, years of participation, and if one of their student’s places in the top three of the state contest. This year, 28 teachers participated, who have a combined 120 collective years of American Dream Essay participation.
The American Dream Essay contest is sponsored by the Zimmerman Family Foundation, the Templeton Foundation, Hilltop National Bank, Larry and Margo Bean, Kevin and Julie Murphy, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Wyoming.