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Meet the 2023 Constitution Day Essay Winners

October 16, 2023

Image of essay winner Joshua Topham, Professor Akhil Amar from Yale, and BYU Academic Vice President Justin Collings
From left to right: Joshua Topham, Constitution Day essay winner; Akhil Amar, professor of law and political science at Yale University and BYU Forum speaker for Constitution Day; Justin Collings, BYU academic vice president.

First Place: Joshua Topham

Image of Joshua Topham

Joshua Topham, an American Studies major with minors in both history and political science, took first place this year with his essay The Case for the Constitution.

In his winning essay, Joshua argues that everyone should care about the Constitution for at least three reasons: (1) it was a radical political innovation that has shaped world history in meaningful ways; (2) the document formed a system of government of, by, and for the people — in other words, it is part of our shared history as Americans; (3) by design, we the people have a continued role in the life of the document.

Joshua wishes to thank Academic Vice President Justin Collings and Professor Paul Kerry for their invaluable instruction about the Constitution. He's especially grateful for his wife, Anna, who proofreads all of his essays and he plans to use part of his award on a gift for her. The rest he'll save for his upcoming law and graduate school application fees.

Second Place: Jessica Dofelmire

Image of Jessica Dofelmire

Jessica Dofelmire, who wrote the second-place article Rare Rights: Understanding the U.S. Constitution, is a recent political science graduate and is now in her first year at the BYU Law School.

In her essay, Jessica shows a deep gratitude and understanding of the United States Constitution. She shares her experience digging a sewage ditch for her friend Francisco in Mozambique. Jessica explains that because of the corruption in his government, Francisco doesn’t have access to medical care for his degenerative disease, justice for crimes committed against him, or even basic infrastructure such as a sewage system. Jessica highlights the first, second, and third articles of the Constitution that grant U.S. citizens legislative power and enforce executive checks and balances so Americans don’t fall prey to political corruption. She highlights the ninth amendment, saying, “The government does not operate to grant us rights, it operates to protect them, and the Constitution ensures that.”

You could never tell it from her essays’ incredible craftsmanship, but Jessica didn’t even see the posting for the essay competition until the night before it was due. “I had been thinking a lot about the experience that I discuss in the paper, so the essay thankfully took shape very quickly,” she says.

Jessica wants everyone to know that she “hope[s] BYU continues with their initiative for Constitution Day because it is so important for U.S. citizens to understand their rights and privileges and how unique those rights and privileges are in the world. Everyone can benefit from a quick refresh on what the Constitution actually does.”

Third Place: Paige Matthews Volz

Image of Paige Matthews Volz

Paige Matthews Volz is a history teaching major at BYU and author of the third-place essay Learning Liberty.

In Paige’s essay, she cries out for more passion. “Constitutional awareness and ownership need time and nourishment to grow to their full potential,” she says.

Paige gives two examples of adults with powerful faith and knowledge of the Constitution. Dr. Harris, a veteran who fought for liberty and equality for African Americans, and her own mother, a “Constitution fanatic.” Paige reminds us that the Constitution is a living document that passes into the hands of each new generation along with the responsibility for the document’s improvement.

Paige had a week to prepare her essay and spent every spare minute writing. She had doubts her essay would place due to the time crunch. She says, “I quite literally shouted out with surprise and happiness when I saw the email come through, telling me I had won the third-place prize! I felt an extreme sense of accomplishment in that moment, and ever since.”

Paige was inspired to submit an essay by Jeff Nokes, history professor and associate dean, who encouraged his entire class to enter. She is grateful to her husband for inspiring her to enter competitions such as this and she also thanks Nokes for his prompt and valuable feedback.

Maybe you could be the next essay contest winner! Students with a major or minor in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences can watch for our weekly newsletter in your BYU email to learn about upcoming contests and other opportunities.