Community freshman wins Michigan statewide scholarship for a Congressional workshop in Washington D.C.

Shanon Kawata with Joslyn Hunscher-Young, Community High World History and Geography teacher, who helped Shanon Shanon with her essay by giving feedback.

Community High School freshman Shanon Kawata is the state winner from Michigan of the National Society of Colonial Dames Congressional Seminar Essay contest and will attend a congressional workshop in Washington D.C. June 19-23 on a full tuition and travel scholarship.

This year, the NSCDA asked students to write a 750-word essay on the following topic: “Examine the US Constitution as a whole and explain why you think it does or does not fully protect the right to vote.”
Shanon will receive full tuition and travel to the Washington Workshops’ “Congressional Seminar,” a week-long civic-focused adventure in our nation’s capital.
The seminar provides two meals daily and an additional per diem, university campus housing, and access to world-class museums, government offices, and memorable outings.
With more than 15,000 members in 44 state Societies, the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America (NSCDA) is a leader in today’s preservation and interpretation of historic sites, traditions, and events. Headquartered in Dumbarton House in Washington, D.C., it sponsors preservation and patriotic projects, educational programs and history scholarships to promote contemporary awareness of our national legacy. The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Michigan (NSCDA-MI) always encourages programs and collaborations that stimulate current interest in our national heritage. By sharing ideas and participating in historically significant projects and family research, members acquire new skills, learn about their ancestry, and discover surprising national, state, and local historical facts.
Shannon is the fourth state winner recently from AAPS.

More information is available here.

Shanon thanks the AAPS teachers who have helped her come this far: Joslyn Hunscher-Young, World History & Geography, Jazz Director Jack Wagner, and forum leader Maneesha Mankad at Community; ELA teacher Sarah Greene, social studies teacher Brian Rose, and social studies teacher Corey Williams at Slauson Middle School; Bach Principal Colette Ivey and Bach fifth grade teacher David Borgsdorf.

“I feel incredibly lucky that I get to learn in AAPS,” she says.

Shanon was asked to “Examine the US Constitution as a whole and explain why you think it does or does not fully protect the Right to Vote.”

Her essay follows:

“We the People” – the first phrase of the Constitution captivates us all. This world’s longest-surviving written charter lays the foundations of our government. One of the most prominent parts is our Right to Vote. The Constitution refers to “voting” fifteen times and an additional twenty-two times in its Amendments.[1] While the document states it does not tolerate deprivation of the Right to Vote based on race, gender, or income, nor does it explicitly hand us the Right to Vote. This raises the question, “To what extent, does the current Constitution protect our Right to Vote?”. Some believe that the Constitution fully protects our Right to Vote. However, I think that the way our current government interprets the Constitution is what guarantees our Right to Vote. This can be illustrated through the voting hardships that people of color faced in the past.

Based on the official website of the United States government, “According to the U.S. Constitution, voting is a right. Many constitutional amendments have been ratified since the first election”.[2] However, after Amendment XV was ratified, numerous Southern states still required African Americans to pass “literacy tests” prior to receiving a ballot. The white poll workers determined the questions as well as the “answers” for the tests, which gave African Americans little to no chance of passing the test.[3] This is one way the Constitution failed to protect our Right to Vote. Another fact is the “poll tax” established to oppress lower-income households, oftentimes households of color. On January 23, 1964, the ratification of Amendment XXIV

granted people to not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax. In addition, according to the National Archives, former President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 after the murder of voting-rights activists in Mississippi and the attack by white state troopers on peaceful marchers in Alabama.[4] Thus, the Constitution did not necessarily protect our Right to Vote in history.

There is an outstanding analysis in a recent New York Times article, “Does the Constitution Guarantee a Right to Vote?”, by Michael Wines. In his perspective, the Constitution contains no explicit right to vote. Rather, the Supreme Court has recognized an implicit Right to Vote via Amendment XIV and guarantees “the equal protection of the laws”. What most Americans see as an inalienable Right to Vote is actually the product of decades of court rulings and legislative decisions, most of them – but hardly all – slowly expanding a legal guarantee of the ability to cast a ballot.[1]

Although our past has failed to protect the Right to Vote, our current government has the ability to interpret and enforce protections of it. My personal experience with Congresswoman Debbie Dingell explains this. Two years ago, she spotted me giving out charity yard signs that I designed at the farmers market. We had a delightful conversation and she featured me and my story on her Facebook front-page. Later that year, I sent her a holiday note, and what she wrote back was, “meeting constituents like you is my favorite part of the job… It is important for young people to engage in our political process and it is inspiring to see leaders like yourself and speak up and advocate for compassion”. She recognized me as a future constituent! And we must remember this would have never happened if I was living in the 1950s since I am a woman of color. This is the perfect evidence provided by the Elected Official herself that our Right to Vote does exist and has been well protected here in the United States of America.

The Constitution itself does not guarantee our Right to Vote as seen throughout our history. It is truly up to how our government interprets it. Going back to the “Literacy Test” controversy, the Voting Rights Act reflects how President Johnson and the Congress viewed Amendment XV and how they wanted to reinforce it. It is how our government interprets the Constitution that determines our Right to Vote. And it is our action – We the People – to elect those who protect our Right to Vote.


  1. Wines, Michael. “Does the Constitution Guarantee a Right to Vote? the Answer May Surprise You.” The New York Times. The New York Times, October 26, 2022.
  2. “Voting and Election Laws.” USAGov, October 11, 2022. ion,voting%20mandatory%20for%20U.S.%20citizens.
  3. Hughes, Franklin. “Authentic Literacy Tests? – July 2013.” Ferris State University, 2013.
  4. “Voting Rights Act (1965).” National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives and Records Administration, February 8, 2022.

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