Headshots of two young women.
Photo credit/Joe Mason

Maria Cortes (L) and Samuela Ndongosieme (R), both seniors at Freeman Academy in Freeman, S.D., earn grand prize and honorable mention, respectively, in the 2021-2022 MCC High School essay contest.

Maria Cortes won grand prize for her essay on the U.S. immigration experience in the annual MCC U.S. National Peace & Justice Ministries (NPJM) high school essay contest. Samuela Ndongosieme earned an honorable mention for her essay submission on the impacts of climate change. 

Cortes and Ndongosieme are both in grade 12 at Freeman Academy in Freeman, S.D. They will receive $250 and $100, respectively, for their winning entries.

In her essay, “The United States of America: Land of the ‘free,’” Cortes lists the reasons for immigration, from poverty to violence to global market pressures, as she highlights her father’s unique immigration story. 

Drawing from her personal experience, Cortes writes, “I have experienced first-hand how hard it is for immigrants to find jobs, friends, and security when it feels like the whole country is wishing for them to fail or trying to send us back to the ‘hole we crawled out of.’” Immigrants have human rights, she says, and “no one should ever be treated as just another ‘problem’ to solve.”

Cortes encourages Christians to draw from the immigration stories in the Bible and Jesus’ example of welcoming the stranger to shape their response to immigrants in their communities. She describes practical ways that communities can offer support. 

Among the challenges that Cortes writes about are the lack of legal help for immigrants seeking asylum and the long process of obtaining permanent U.S. residency. These processes could be sped up by hiring more people to work on immigration cases. Funding for this could be diverted from excessive military spending. 

Throughout her essay, Cortes emphasizes the need to humanize the immigrant and to acknowledge the benefits that immigrants bring. Excerpts from Cortes’ essay can be found at https://mcc.org/media/resources/10812.

In her essay, “Climate change is consuming our homes,” Ndongosieme explores the impact of global warming on wildfires. As the U.S. is a major greenhouse gas emitter, Ndongosieme emphasizes the responsibility it has to prevent further warming. She outlines the ways that the U.S. is involved internationally through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and nationally through the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) to prevent climate change and deal with its impacts.

According to Ndongosieme, Anabaptists have a responsibility to help. She writes, “Our beliefs teach us that it is our duty to take care of the earth and respect it” and that “we should take care of God’s work of art.”

To prevent wildfires from causing further destruction, Ndongosieme calls on all of us to recognize our responsibilities as citizens and Christians.  

The MCC U.S. NPJM high school essay and video contest, which is in its 23rd year, encourages youth to explore and understand national policy issues while reflecting on how their faith engages with advocacy. Public policy topics in this year’s contest included immigration, climate change and selective service. 

The contest is open to Mennonite, Brethren in Christ and other Anabaptist youth of high school age and to all youth who attend Mennonite-related high schools within the U.S. and Puerto Rico. 

Opinions of the winners do not necessarily reflect the view of MCC.