Photo Credit National Constitution Center
George wins contest with essay on Thaddeus Stevens
September 30, 2015

14thamendmentWhen talking about great Americans, Thaddeus Stevens is not one that trips off the tongue quickly – if at all.

But his spot in history is important enough to garner him a spot on the American National Tree, and you can thank Culver Girls Academy freshman C. Sophia George (Indianapolis) for that. George wrote the winning essay on Stevens earlier this summer and recently returned from the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, where Stevens was added to the tree on Sept. 17.

His plaque (digital display) now hangs on the tree sculpture next to a copy of George’s essay about him. He is one of 100 Americans so honored. Others include the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Ryan White, Mickey Mouse, and Nellie Bly. The tree is part of an exhibit called The Story of We the People, which tells the stories of those honored and how their actions helped shape the Constitution over time.

Stevens was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. A strong abolitionist, he helped draft the 14th Amendment during Reconstruction. George said one way to remember Stevens is that he is played by actor Tommy Lee Jones in Steven Spielberg’s movie Lincoln, which includes Hal Holbrook ’42 as Preston Blair.

And, for most people, that would be enough. But George wanted to dig deeper. And it was tough going, she said.

It was really difficult to find information about him. Reliable sources were hard to come by.

“It was really difficult to find information about him,” she explained. “Reliable sources were hard to come by. There’s Wikipedia and a couple of websites, but that’s about it on the internet. There are not any hardback books about him. Mostly what I found were people he was related to or had contact with and he’s mentioned. But there are not a lot of specifics. Most of it is general information.”

But her digging paid off for her and Stevens, who was one of five nominees up for inclusion on the American National Tree. George said participants could select one of the five to cover in an essay of between 250 and 500 words. She chose Stevens because she was intrigued by his short biography.

George was invited to participate by the National Constitution Center, Scholastic, Inc., and the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers because she had won an earlier Scholastic essay competition. But the email inviting her came only two weeks before the essay was due. She did her research and then wrote her rough draft, which was over the 500-word limit. Then the editing process started.

“I don’t really do different drafts,” she explained. “I fine tune as I go along. I’m continuously editing. At the very end, I asked my sister Sarah ’17 to look it over and tell me what she thought. She gave me a few pointers.”

After she submitted the essay, it took about a month for the submissions to go through the various judges before her piece was selected over the other 250 entries. She had an email waiting on her one morning when she woke up.

“I read the email and I started screaming that I had won,” George laughed. “I ran through the house screaming. Then I realized I was alone. And I was like ‘OK, I’m alone here.’ So, the excitement was deferred for a while. It was still pretty exciting though.”

As the winner of the M.R. Robinson American National Tree Award, George got to read her essay before the audience during Stevens’ induction ceremony. She also received a $1,000 scholarship. The ceremony was held on Constitution Day. Sept. 17, 1787, is the day the U.S. Constitution was signed by 39 of our Founding Fathers.

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