By Leah Jones – Features Editor

In an election year with increasingly divisive rhetoric and political campaigns, the University of Missouri-St. Louis staff and students commemorated and reflected on the living document that fused the country together 229 years ago: The United States Constitution. Though Constitution Day is officially celebrated on September 17, in honor of the signing of the document in 1787, UMSL celebrated the event for the entire week, from September 12 to September 17.

The Constitution Week Kickoff Event on September 12 recognized the essay and art contest winners. The essays and artwork responded to the question “What can we do to be more united and truly form ‘a more perfect union?’” The winning artwork was displayed at the Millennium Student Center Bookstore from September 12 to 23. Kat Riddler, graduate, MBA, and Editor-In-Chief of The Current won first prize with her essay “Can Justice Unite a Divided Nation?” Brad DiMariano, graduate, political science, won second place with his essay “Re-Gratifying American Gratitude with Great Acts of Greatness: What Americans Can Do to Be More United and Create a ‘More Perfect Union.’” Alaa Saffaf, senior, Biology/Pre-Med, took third place with her essay “Unity is Power.”

Kat Riddler reading her essay. Photo courtesy of Patricia Zahn.
Kat Riddler reading her essay. Photo courtesy of Patricia Zahn.

DiMariano said that he was inspired to write his essay by “the absurdity of American politics.” He said, “My submission was part catharsis and partly a statement that political leaders respond to incentives created by the rules of the political game. If one wants better leaders and a more perfect union, one should change the rules of the game as opposed to just the players. What’s the point of voting the bums out if the new ‘bums’ are going to play the same game?”

Dr. Lynn Staley reading Brad DiMariano's essay. Photo by Kat Riddler/The Current.
Dr. Lynn Staley reading Brad DiMariano’s essay. Photo by Kat Riddler/The Current.

Saffaf said, “I was inspired because I have witnessed hostility and hate in multiple aspects in my everyday life. As a volunteer at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, I work with people of all different races and backgrounds and I have come to realize that regardless of our upbringing we are all one and if we, as a nation, can work together, we could accomplish so much more. Our country stands for unity which is exactly why we stand apart and above all other countries. We are the ‘United’ States of America.”

Alaa Saffaf reading her essay. Photo by Kat Riddler/The Current.
Alaa Saffaf reading her essay. Photo by Kat Riddler/The Current.

On Tuesday, the Department of Military and Veterans Studies sponsored a film screening of the documentary “Where Soldiers Come From.” The film won the Independent Spirit Truer Than Fiction Award in 2012. Director Heather Courtney follows four friends from northern Michigan who fought in the war in Afghanistan and returned to the U.S. with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

On Thursday, the Center for Ethics in Public Life sponsored an interactive discussion about the intersections of race, gender, sexual identity, and the U.S. Constitution in Century Room C of the MSC. The discussion, entitled “’General Welfare’ Gets Specific: Sex, Skin, and the Constitution,’” featured panelists Professor Barbara Graham, Ellen Dunne, and Tony Rothert. Graham is an associate professor of political science at UMSL who specializes in law, courts, and politics. Dunne serves as a board member on the Women’s Lawyer’s Association of St. Louis and works as a litigator at Blitz, Bardgett & Deutsch LC.

Rothert coordinates advocacy and litigation efforts for civil liberties issues as the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri.

Students who did not enter the essay or art contests also had the opportunity to contribute to the conversation. They wrote their answers the question “How can we secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our children?” on slips of paper which they posted on the MSC bridge. Though the prompt asked students to answer in six words or less, many students wrote more than that to convey their opinions. One passionate student wrote “Freedom of speech, the right to protest freely [without] retaliation, [and] the right to walk down the street [without] being harassed based on your looks.”

Courtesy of Leah Jones

Through these active discussions and engagements, students and faculty at UMSL came together to ensure that the U.S. Constitution remains a living document that is both “by the people and for the people.”

To read other student responses, stop by the MSC bridge. To find out more about “Where Soldiers Come From,” visit;