Two PCHS essay writers honored

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GUILFORD — A pair of Piscataquis Community High School students placed in the top three of the 2019 Camden Conference high school essay contest which focused on this year’s session theme “Is This China’s Century?”

PCHS Class of 2019 Valedictorian Jennifer Simon earned second-place honors in the Camden Conference Bill Taylor Essay Contest with “A Global Solution.” Placing third was rising PCHS senior Caitlyn Drinkwater with “Human Rights in China.”

Jennifer Simon

First prize went to Sophie Laurence of Gould Academy in Bethel with “Cybersovereignty: Redefining Digital Citizenship in the Cyber Era.” The essays are posted at

In February Simon, Drinkwater and their classmates traveled to Camden for the 32nd annual multiple-day event. The Camden Conference was founded in 1987 as a nonprofit, non-partisan educational organization whose mission is to foster informed discourse on world issues.

“One of our students placed second and the other student placed third and that was in the formal policy essay contest hosted by the Camden Conference every year and we’re very pleased to be well represented in the placing essays once again this year,” said PCHS English teacher Joseph Hennessy, who along with social studies teacher Ryan Botting worked with Simon and Drinkwater on their essays as Camden Conference course instructors.

Caitlyn Drinkwater

“What the students were tasked with doing, independently of our instruction in class and based upon what they learned at the conference, they were required to select their own topic from a predetermined set of challenges either faced by China or a set of challenges faced by the world in relation to China and to research the issue and then devise a policy-based solution to those problems,” Hennessy said. “So the essays were selected largely due to human rights abuses and treatment of ethnic minorities in China, so we were very pleased that they represented us so well on the state level.”

Hennessey said after attending the Camden Conference Simon and Drinkwater “had class time periodically from late February through early April in order to craft those essays and then they were submitted to the Bill Taylor scoring committee, which is a sub-committee of the education committee for the Camden Conference. We received word early this week that they had received those prizes so their work will actually be published on the Camden Conference website and they will also be receiving some sort of monetary award as well.

“Every year that we’ve participated we have had least one student place, so we are very proud of the tradition of strong writing and critical thinking and we look forward to hopefully having more of that success in the future,” he said.

Hennessey mentioned Simon’s valedictorian honor by saying “We’re very proud of her and we wish her the best at the University of Haven where she will be majoring in theatre.”

“I am absolutely proud of them, we have had somebody place every year so far,” Botting said.

“We placed two people in the top three out of 17-19 schools, that’s really awesome for a small school,” he said. “It makes you feel like you are doing something good.”

Drinkwater said she learned of her placement in the Camden Conference essay contest on June 12. Upon hearing the news she said cried because “I didn’t think I was going to win, I absolutely didn’t think I would.”

“I wrote about human rights in China,” Drinkwater said. “I looked up a bunch of stuff and we have been prepping for it really the entire year. We were talking about how China’s human rights were not so good in class and I was like ‘well no one else is going to write about that so I’ll try to do that.’”

Drinkwater said Hennessey and Botting supported her in “every way they possibly could.”

“They edited my papers, they supported me in writing the essay, they gave me ideas to write about, they gave me sites to use for research,” she said.

Via an online message Simon wrote that she first learned of her essay honor from Drinkwater. “Actually it’s kind of funny. I literally just found out about my essay honor from Caitlyn and I was shocked, I’m so happy that my essay was well received.”

“I chose my topic because it’s something that I am really passionate about,” Simon said. “It is also a very popular topic, especially when relating to China. It took me a couple of weeks to research and write, mainly because I had to wade through a bunch of political jargon when I was reading the Paris Climate Agreement and the Green New Deal.”

Simon also credited her teachers, “Both Mr. Hennessey and Mr. Botting were super supportive during the whole process. They are very encouraging and you can tell they genuinely care, especially when a student is passionate about an assignment.”

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