Each year, a committee comprised of representatives from the VBA staff, the VBA Diversity Section, and the VBA Young Lawyers Division, chooses a quotation by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to inspire Vermont’s middle school students to participate in a Poster-Essay Contest. This year’s quotation came from Dr King’s 1964 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech: “We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”
After removing the names and identifying information from the entries, the judges choose a winner, a first runner-up, and a second runner-up. The judges this year were again impressed with the varied and thoughtful responses of the contestants.
Many of the entries represented the “flying like birds” (airplanes) and swimming like fish (submarines or scuba divers). Others focused on MLK, Jr. himself, his history and some of the other things for which he was famous. The winners were distinguished by the obvious degree of effort the students had put into their posters and the essays.
In addition to being published in the Vermont Bar Journal and here on the VBA website, the winning entries were displayed at the VBA Young Lawyer’s Division Mid-Winter Thaw in Montreal over the 2024 Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend. They will next be displayed at the Vermont Supreme Court. In addition, the winners and their families are invited to an award ceremony with Gov. Scott followed by a meeting with Supreme Court justices on Feb 1. All entries outside of the top three were awarded honorable mentions, all of which were well-deserved.
The VBA congratulates the winners and all the participants!
First Place: The top prize this year went to the team of Ankita Dungara and Aili Olson, 7th graders at Winooski Middle School. Their painting uses beautiful colors to visualize the quotation. The judges were also particularly impressed with their essay. Not only do they succinctly describe the reasons for the images they chose, but they also demonstrate real insight into Dr. King’s point – that humanity has developed amazing technologies, but we haven’t mastered the basic skill of living side-by-side. They captured something of the hopefulness of Dr. King’s life’s work by representing the divers, of different races, joining hands. The judges were moved by the call in their essay to, “[s]tart with Vermont. Let’s repair the past and look to the future. Let’s make everyone feel important and valued, because everyone is.” Here is their essay:
The quote this year is a very meaningful quote to us. To us, it means that we have learned how to do so much with technology but we have not yet learned how to live with people of difference races, nationalities and genders. We feel that that quote is especially true right now with all the wars going on in so many different countries. So for our project, we have chosen to present the “We have learned to fly the air like birds…” part of the quote by having hot air balloons and a plane in the sunset sky with the birds flying south for the winter. Then for the “… and swim the sea like fish…” part of the quote we made a boat catching a fish.
Finally for the “… and we have not learned the simple art of living together like brothers.” part of the quote we have chosen to represent that by having two scuba divers from different countries and races helping each other. Because we hope that one day people of all races, genders, and sexualities can get along. We believe that everyone is equal no matter their race or how they identify. So let’s start with Vermont. Let’s repair the past and look to the future. Let’s make everyone feel they’re important and valued, because everyone is.
First Runners-Up: The team of Astrid Longstreth and Riley Ayer, 8th graders at Camels Hump Middle School took the first runners-up prize. Their entry was a very accomplished and striking drawing of Dr. King. The judges were impressed with their decision not to try to literally depict the quotation, but to focus on the overall legacy of Dr. King. They also wrote an original poem that was thoughtful and moving. The poem not only contributed to the meaning of their poster but added a strong graphic element to the excellent overall composition. In their essay they described their thinking behind the images that they chose to represent Dr. King’s legacy of love and hope in opposition to hate and injustice.
Here is their essay:
Our poster uses symbols to connect to the theme. One is the birds and broken manacles near his mouth. There are both symbols of freedom, and are presenting Martin Luther King’s words, and the influence they had. He spoke of freedom, justice, and love. The subject of love brings us to think of how love is at the center of our actions, and is the key to combating hate. Without love we will never be able to fight off the injustice that remains in our world today. We believe that Martin Luther King’s words were spoken from his heart – he spoke with passion, each word brimming with it.
In the poster, we also see that MLK is looking out towards something in the distance. That something is meant to be the future, and what he hoped to do and was doing everything he could to create a brighter horizon for generations yet to come. MLK embodied hope, and the rising sun behind him is a symbol of that. Without hope, would we ever choose to get up in the morning? Without believing that somewhere out there, there’s something to live for, would we ever truly live?
The final thing included in this poster is an original poem. MLK fought for the future that he wanted, but he was never violent. He used words to create a change, and with this poem, as well as the poster, we hope to do the same.
Second Runners-Up: The young team of Marissa Earle-Centers and Eliza Stanton, 5th graders at Main Street Middle School in Montpelier, took the second runners-up prize. Their cheerful poster also represented humanity’s mastery of the sea and sky, with a plane towing a banner including “we have learned to fly the air like birds” and a scuba diver representing our ability to, “swim the sea like fishes.” They also economically represented the hopeful aspect of a future where people of all descriptions might live “together as brothers” with a series of stick figures representing different races across the bottom of their image. The pair also produced a very sophisticated essay, noting that the quotation was, “laced with both metaphorical and literal meaning,” and that they chose to take “the more literal approach to it” in their poster. They also clearly understood the metaphor at work, that humans have worked hard to achieve “seemingly impossible feats” but have, “put off the task of seeing past the color of people’s skin and just living together in peace and harmony.”
Here is their full essay:
‘“We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”
Martin Luther King Jr. said this during his Nobel peace prize acceptance speech. This quote was laced with both metaphorical and literal meanings. It symbolizes all of seemingly impossible feats that humans have achieved, for example building airplanes and sending people to the depths of the ocean. It also embodies the fact that we as humans have worked hard to achieve those things, sometimes spent years devoted to it, and yet we have in a way, put off the task of seeing past the color of people’s skin, and just living together in peace and harmony.
For our poster we chose to take the more literal approach to it, drawing an airplane with a banner trailing behind it, and an underwater view of a scuba diver. At the bottom we decided to show what we hope can someday be, a united body of people, people who don’t care about the color of your skin, where you’re from, or your religion. A true community.