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Mount Vernon Awards the 2023 Students of the Year Prize for Excellence in Civics and History in Honor of Dr. Jennifer London; Recognizes Wenatchee, WA and Honolulu, HI Students for Outstanding George Washington Projects

Today Mount Vernon announced The Mount Vernon Prize for Excellence in Civics and History in Honor of Dr. Jennifer London. The prize is awarded to two projects each year recognizing outstanding middle and high school students who apply their understanding of Washington’s life to extend his legacy of public service and scholarship within their classrooms, schools, or communities. Mount Vernon is pleased to announce the 2023 award recipients.

2023 High School Winner: James Byrd, Wenatchee, WA

James has been enrolled in homeschool and is now participating in “Running Start,” a dual enrollment program at Wenatchee Valley College. James is the Washington State President of the Children of the American Revolution (C.A.R.) He created a performance entitled “George Washington: Our State’s Namesake” as his C.A.R. state-wide service project. He conceived the idea because many of his peers did not know the man their state was named after. The One Act play focused on George Washington’s life as a child and young adult. Using letters and primary source documents to create a script, he included anecdotes and events that he thought young people could relate to and gave over 25 performances in six months.

Mount Vernon’s Vice President for Education, Allison Wickens, notes, “James’s project was so inspired.  The judging panel was moved by his initial question — why don’t more people know about the man their state is named for?  His commitment to reaching hundreds of students and driving around the state was laudable. He also did great research and sourced his presentation well. “

George Washington is of interest to him because of his own genealogy. As a member of the C.A.R., he has a direct ancestor who fought in the American Revolution under George Washington’s command.  On the other side of his family, he is a member of the Chickasaw Nation and found it important that George Washington had several meetings with the leaders of the Chickasaw Nation and saw his ancestors as members of an independent Nation. He enjoyed the Q&A that followed each presentation, where he fielded fun, interesting, and challenging questions. He used his research skills to ensure he was providing historically accurate information to the tough questions, especially when people asked him about George Washington as a slaveholder.

James received donations in support of George Washington’s Mount Vernon at his performances and donated over $5000 to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in April.

James will receive a $5000 award. 

2023 Middle School Winner: Riki Kawamura, Honolulu Hawaii

Riki was an 8th grader at Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School during the prize application, and he is now a student at Roosevelt High School in Honolulu, Hawaii. He wrote the paper “What made George Washington a Great Military Leader.” His teacher hosted a six-week George Washington Leadership Study in his class that inspired him to write and refine the paper.

He became interested in the topic because he thought it was odd and fascinating that while George Washington was considered a great General, he lost a lot of battles. In his research, Riki learned the British army was powerful, and George Washington was always at a military disadvantage. He hopes his research paper can show how Washington’s good character informed how he behaved and respected others. He chose when to retreat when it was best. Riki believes it is essential for people to see the connection between George Washington’s character and his military thinking. 

Mount Vernon’s Vice President for Education Allison Wickens notes, “Riki’s essay was particularly well written, well argued, and well researched for an 8th-grade student.  When read alongside all the other 8th grade papers, it really stood out.  The judges also thought his thesis (that being a good military leader was more than winning battles) was nuanced and insightful.” 

“Riki is a really remarkable student and I'm so thankful I had him in class. He is a perfect example of the many fruits that can become a reality when you are willing to take risks and challenge yourself. I am so proud of him and hope that he continues to put his brilliant thoughts out there for the rest of us. I'm so proud to have been his teacher last year,” said Dr. Andrea-Bernadette ("Andy") Pratt, 8th grade U.S. History Teacher from Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School.

Award sponsor Dr. Jennifer London reflects, “As we approach our nation's 250th anniversary, I am excited to see momentum gaining for our Mount Vernon Prize for Excellence in Civics and History. I congratulate our impressive winners this year for their impactful works in recognizing Washington's historical significance. I hope their example will serve to generate continued interest in George Washington as a role model and a source of inspiration."

Mount Vernon is dedicated to supporting teachers and students about the life and legacies of George Washington, with educational resources designed to support further exploration into Washington’s world both in and out of the classroom. Wickens is pleased to support this important recognition, “I’m so proud that Mount Vernon can be associated with these great young scholars who are researching and sharing so much of George Washington’s legacy with their communities. Our award winners come from states far from George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, but clearly, distance does not diminish their ability to bring forward his impact on their lives today.”

Riki will receive a $1000 award.

Please click here to learn more, watch the 2023 Mount Vernon Student of the Year interviews, and nominate a student for 2024.


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