We’re pleased to announce the winners of The Nation’s sixth annual Student Writing Contest. This year we asked students to send us an original, unpublished, 800-word essay detailing what they think is the most important issue facing their generation. We received hundreds of submissions from high school and college students in forty-one states. We chose one college and one high school winner and ten finalists total. The winners are Bryce Wilson Stucki of Virginia Tech University and Hannah Moon of Brooklyn College Academy in Brooklyn, New York. The winners receive a cash award of $1,000 and the finalists, $200 each. All receive Nation subscriptions. —The Editors

I was staring at my financial aid package from Fordham University, and it dawned on me just how little the school was giving me to attend—barely $16,000 of the $40,000 dollar tuition. Were we not the generation that was supposed to thrive and be the harvesters of the past generations’ hardships and victories? Were we not supposed to be the calm after the storm, not having to worry about how we will pay for school or where our next paycheck is coming from?

With the economy crashing into this crippling recession, people are holding on to their jobs for dear life, but unfortunately, the world around them is crumbling. Businesses are failing, banks are closing, and teachers are being fired because of budget cuts. Now I’m wondering how middle- and working-class children who are moving on to college are going to survive such an economic downturn. In this time of hardship, job opportunities are scarce, requiring a person to go above and beyond the usual academic and experiential expectations.

Furthermore, I am afraid that the quality of education is diminishing, because the drastic cuts in public school funding mean a huge increase in the number of students per class, the elimination in many schools of art and music and the termination of extracurricular activities like sports teams and clubs. With too few teachers, this generation is facing overcrowded classrooms and a corresponding lack of attention and care, which will affect students’ growth intellectually and personally as well as academically. Further, cutting extracurricular activities and elective classes damages the well-rounded education that, as a nation, we should seek for our future citizens. Ultimately, the future will require these growing students to go beyond high school, and even college, to become informed and active citizens of this society.

In addition, public schools aren’t the only institutions losing funding; colleges are too. With tuition going up rapidly, the opportunities for those who aren’t so fortunate as to have well-off parents quickly fade. With the loss of endowments, the student-to-faculty ratio in colleges increases. When the student-to-faculty ratio increases, the amount of attention a single student receives decreases. Without enough professors, colleges will require  students who couldn’t be in a certain class due to the lack of space to stay another semester or year to complete their requirements, or to change majors to complete the classes necessary to graduate.

Moreover, some colleges drop programs in order to survive. When more and more programs are shut down, the opportunities for students at that college decrease. Therefore, the student will graduate with loads of debt, and without the education and experience to be what society requires of them. That leaves nearly an entire generation financially unstable and, perhaps, stuck in poverty.

Every week I take the bus to school, and I witness the most alarming and heart-wrenching scene, which leaves me asking myself, “Is the economy that bad?” There is an employment agency right next to one of the bus stops we pass, and most days I saw a long, meandering line in front of that building. I saw them through the harsh winter snowstorms, waiting in front of that door, and I saw them through the scorching summer mornings, waiting in front of that door—that door that may lead them to the help they need to pay for the next phone bill, gas bills, rent. It is dispiriting, because every time I see those people waiting, who probably will be waiting all morning, I imagine myself waiting with them too—waiting for a way out. I don’t want to meet the future, no matter how exciting people say it will be, if I will be struggling just to get my rent paid on time. I don’t want my future self constantly thinking about money and how, when and where I’m going to get it. The thought is unsettling. I have a question: What will become of my generation? I honestly don’t know, but I know that when I do move on to college, there will be that constant gong at the back of my mind, reminding me just how much it will cost for me to take classes and become someone in society.

Given all this, I hope that the government will direct more funding into the country’s schools in order to create a stronger generation that will soon grow to become supporters, themselves, of education and the well-being of citizens. I do realize that my generation will lose many more opportunities because of this economy, but I hope there will be a turn in the near future, so that the next generation does not have the same unsettling future that we now face.