East Lyme Middle School students awarded in national C-SPAN video competition

East Lyme — Three East Lyme Middle School students were recognized as winning contestants as part of C-SPAN’s national video documentary contest during an awards ceremony at the middle school Thursday morning.

Exploring the topic of “what it means to be an American,” — the theme for C-SPAN's competition this year — middle school students Mannat Kadian, Rebecca Gu and Avni Kabra were awarded honorable mention for their six-minute video analyzing the 17th Amendment and how it relates to that theme.

Their video, “The 17th Amendment: Its Impact on Our Nation,” was selected as one of 38 winners out of nearly 1,000 submissions from middle school students nationwide. As the only middle school winners in Connecticut, the three girls were among more than 6,000 middle- and high-school students who participated in the competition this year. They follow a handful of winners coming from East Lyme over the last few years.

Featuring C-SPAN footage and interviews with school and local elected officials such as state Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, and state Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, the documentary gives an analysis of the 17th Amendment’s history and its modern-day impacts on American voters and the U.S. Senate, as well as its impacts on citizens living in East Lyme today.

Accepted as part of the Constitution in 1913, the 17th Amendment established the popular election of U.S. Senators, two from each state — “reinforcing the idea of freedom,” the three girls argued in their video.

“This amendment is unique,” said Kadian, who is 14 and in eighth grade, after Thursday’s award ceremony. “It helps us, because in such a small town, we have such a small voice. But our voices are transported out to Washington, D.C., through this amendment.”

“It’s like a chain,” added Kabra, who is 12 and in seventh grade, while explaining that people’s voices can carry from a town’s first selectman to a U.S. senator because of the amendment. “From just one small person, your voice can make it all the way to the Capitol. This amendment is about representing us, it’s representing what the citizens think.”

Gu, who is 13 and in eighth grade, recently moved to Massachusetts and was not at Thursday’s awards ceremony.

Of those congratulating the girls for their efforts at Thursday’s ceremony were Cheeseman; Chap Hanley, vice president and general manager of Atlantic Broadband; and East Lyme Superintendent Jeffrey Newton, as well as representatives from the offices of U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy.

First Selectman Mark Nickerson, who also was at the ceremony and featured in the documentary, presented “East Lyme coins” to the girls for their notable work.

“They told me in November (their documentary) would be on the 17th Amendment, and I went, ‘Uh oh, what the heck is the 17th Amendment?'” Nickerson said. “But through this, you taught me so much, and your video gave me an understanding on how we were able to elect our senators.”

The three girls, all of whom are very high-achieving students, according to some of their teachers, came together to create the video out “of pure passion,” Kadian said.

“We knew we didn’t want to do something like the Bill of Rights, or the First Amendment,” Kadian said. “So we went online and looked at the multiple different amendments. Then we came across the 17th Amendment, and that really did inspire us.”

“It’s something that is so small, and you think it isn’t a big deal. But its impact is huge,” Kadian continued.

Inspired by her older brother who had also participated and won honorable mention in the same documentary competition four years prior, Kadian said when she learned about the competition this year, she knew she wanted to work on it with Kabra and Gu — “the two perfect people who would be willing to put forth as much effort as I would.”

“So we sat down to brainstorm about this,” Kadian said. “And we knew we wanted it to be unique and different from all the others.”

Having started working on the documentary in November, Kadian and Kabra said the project took the girls nearly two months to complete and was entirely self-initiated. Besides working after school and staying up late nearly every night to work on the video, the girls also were responsible for all the researching, script writing, interviewing and filming, and for editing the documentary themselves.

In order to do that, Kadian said she used the internet to teach herself how to use Final Cut Pro.

“It was a lot of trial and error, but eventually I got the video to the point to where it is today,” she said. “I spent three or four days just editing it and getting it to be how I wanted it to be.”

Commenting on the girls’ “above-and-beyond” efforts, middle school social studies teacher Anne Haling said, “These three ladies really did do everything themselves. They reached out to us teachers for a little advice here and there, but they really chose their own topic, were so passionate and they built on their own experiences to make this video come together.”

m.biekert@theday.com

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