High School Winner: James Byrd
This award allows us to do something entirely new. It positions us to hear from students why they think Washington’s biography is important and relevant to their lives today.
James Byrd, a high school student from Wenatchee, WA, won Student of the Year 2023 for his performance piece, "George Washington: Our State's Namesake." Realizing that his peers were unfamiliar with the state’s namesake, James set out to connect audiences with the history of the Nation’s first president.
His one-act play focuses on George Washington's childhood and young adult life, drawing from primary source documents. Each performance was followed by an audience Q&A session, where James fielded fun, interesting, and challenging questions, especially when people asked him about George Washington as a slaveholder. As a member of the Chickasaw Nation, James found it significant that President Washington met with Chickasaw leaders to establish diplomatic ties and upheld Chickasaw sovereignty.
James performed this play over 25 times in 6 months, reaching audiences of 5 to 100, as his state-wide service project for the Washington State Chapter of the Children of the American Revolution (C.A.R), of which he is also president.
Riki Kawamura, a freshman from Roosevelt High School in Honolulu, Hawaii, won Student of the Year with his paper: “What Made George Washington a Great Military Leader." Using Mount Vernon’s digital resources, Riki researched many elements of Washington’s military leadership, including pivotal battles like the Battle of Long Island, where Washington's biggest loss occurred. Washington learned from this defeat and changed his battle strategies, which Riki argues was one of his greatest strengths, crediting Washington’s good character with playing a significant role in his military decisions, such as choosing when to retreat and knowing when to vaccinate soldiers against smallpox.
This topic was inspired by a 6-week George Washington Leadership Study hosted by his teacher, Dr. Andrea-Bernadette ("Andy") Pratt of Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School, an alumna of Mount Vernon’s George Washington Teacher Institute. Riki emphasized the personal relevance of Washington's actions and character to his own life. Riki's hard work on the essay improved his writing skills and provided a valuable learning experience. Aside from his academic achievements, Riki is interested in computer science and plays the clarinet in the school band.