Bar Foundation Announces Winners on Anniversary of Essay Contest
On June 24, the Anne Arundel County Bar Foundation celebrated the 20th anniversary of its annual High School Essay Contest by announcing the winners of the 2019 competition.
Each year, the Foundation, which is the charitable arm of the Anne Arundel Bar Association (AABA), invites local high school students to submit an essay on a specific legal topic, often related to a current U.S. Supreme Court case. This year, the competition was swept by a trio of students from South River High School:
1st Place ($500): Alisa Slonaker, rising sophomore, South River HS
2nd Place ($250): Laney Phipps, rising junior, South River HS
3rd Place ($100): Nicole Rubilotta, rising junior, South River HS
For this year's essay contest, students were asked to express their opinions on the U.S. Supreme Court case The American Legion v. American Humanist Association, which had not been decided when the competition was announced. Students had to consider whether the government-funded display and maintenance of the “Bladensburg Peace Cross”—a cross-shaped war memorial located at a public highway intersection in Bladensburg, Maryland—violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. On June 20, a few days before the essay award ceremony, the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision that the cross can continue to stand on public land, rejecting arguments that this memorial represented an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.
The winning students received their awards on June 24 during a special ceremony in the Historic Courtroom of the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County. The students' families, four Circuit Court judges, numerous AABA members and South River Principal William Myers were present for the ceremony. “As a principal I could not be prouder of the time and effort our students put into this essay contest every year. To win the top three spots is amazing and speaks volumes about the quality of their work,” said Myers.
The top student, Alisa Slonaker, is a rising sophomore in South River High School's demanding STEM program. She was encouraged by her U. S Government teacher, Marie Livingston to participate in the competition. Livingston said, “I like to ask my students to participate because it really encourages them to think about controversial issues related to government and hone their writing skills at the same time. The cases are always very interesting and can lead to really deep discussions.”
To honor the 20th anniversary of the high school essay contest, the AABA and Bar Foundation also presented a commemorative photo plaque to the founders and sponsors of the competition, the Honorable Timothy Meredith of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and his wife Kathleen Meredith, co-founder of the law firm Iliff, Meredith, Wildberger & Brennan. The Merediths live in Severna Park, Maryland, and have two children, Ben Meredith and Patrice Meredith Clarke, who also work as attorneys in Anne Arundel County.
Since the Merediths founded this High School Essay Contest in 1999, nearly 3,000 students from public and private high schools in Anne Arundel County have participated in the contest. During this time, the Merediths have donated more than $20,000 to fund contest awards for over local 60 students.
“Our goal in conducting the annual essay contest is to encourage high school students to think about a case currently being argued in the courts, and, we hope, recognize that rulings of the appellate courts can have an impact upon the students' own lives,” said Hon. Timothy Meredith. In prior years, the contest has challenged students to analyze court cases involving same-sex marriage and the Equal Rights Amendment of the Constitution of the State of Maryland, and breathalyzer tests in the absence of a warrant and the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Judge Meredith added, “We hope that the experience of participating in the essay contest may inspire some students to consider pursuing a career in the law.” During the ceremony, AABA President Brian Marsh noted that many former winners of this contest have continued on the to pursue higher education and careers in law, government and public policy.
Marsh announced that 2002 essay contest winner William Mundy went on to earn a law degree from UCLA and now serves as the Director of Graduate Student Legal Aid at University of Maryland. 2005 winner Jeremy Pevner received a Master's in Public Administration from Cornell University and is a Senior Program Manager at the U.S. Senate Sergeant at Arms. 2013 winner Paige Markley is a second-year law student at Catholic University of America and serves as a law clerk at Bread for the City in Washington, DC.
During the ceremony, Marsh said, “These students are but a few who have been positively influenced by Judge and Kathleen Meredith by means of their efforts to raise the public's understanding of the law through the essay contests and their other charitable work within the legal profession.”
In 2015, the Meredith's were recognized with the Maryland Bar Foundation for the Professional Legal Excellence Award in the category Advancement of Public Understanding of the Law in recognition of their efforts to educate high school students about the law and its direct impact on their lives.