BELT, Mont. — Sarah Dollenger appreciates that poetry is open to interpretation.
“My freshman year I took a creative writing class and kind of found a love for poetry,” said Dollenger, a senior at Belt High School, “and it’s just kind of carried throughout the years.
That love for poetry led to Dollenger submitting an entry in the “What does the US Constitution mean to me” contest, an entry that collected second-place honors in the high school division.
“When I saw that (the contest) was really open, I thought, ‘I want to participate with a poem,'” Dollenger said. “A poem allows you to express ideas without directly stating them, and that’s kind of like the Constitution in a way because the Constitution has things it says, but it’s really open to interpretation. It’s the same thing with poetry.”
Dollenger’s poem, “The American Boy“, received recognition in the contest, which was hosted by the Montana YouthVote Program and announced on Friday, September 17, 2021, as part of the Constitution Day celebration in the capitol rotunda.
The poem reads:
Listen to words of Wisdom
And if you stray
Oh if you stray
You no longer will be American.
Our meticulated thoughts are no longer yours
Careless words will put you to shame.
The shackles on your wrists imprint their thoughts.
Oh but you love her so,
Time warped immortality
On the pages of vermillion and soul.
Green linen and Candle lit discussions.
Whispers in the breeze carried across waves upon waves.
Open your ears
And be American Boy.
Caressed pages containing our thoughts,
The infinite stone.
Time does not phase her.
The crickled Recto and Verso coming together
Tick tock – tick tock
Listen with your heart.
They know all stories of our Country,
Fine print in between the carefully chosen words.
Hear her cry
Don’t miss the point laid out for you and the next.The American Boy by Sarah Dollenger
“I really wanted people to be able to interpret it in their own way, but that’s why I also included a brief summary, so you kind of got the idea of what I was thinking,” Dollenger explained of her submission. “It was really just that the Constitution is very, that it’s the parameters that America was made on, and really what’s behind a lot of the decisions for America. It’s what drives people to love this country so much.
“I guess I just kind of wanted people to be able to make that connection that the Constitution is really what’s behind what makes America, America.”
Dollenger and her poem were recently recognized during a visit from Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, who touted Dollenger’s entry as “a unique way to express the meaning of the Constitution with the beautiful poem.”
In a celebration consisting of Belt High School juniors, seniors, and staff, including government teacher Karl Koontz, Dollenger read her poem and summary aloud.
“She did all that,” Koontz said of Dollenger’s poem. “I introduced the idea when the email showed up (from the Secretary of State’s Office announcing the contest).”
Koontz includes the Constitution in his lesson plans each year, and earlier in 2021, he requested and received copies of the US and Montana Constitutions from the Montana Secretary of State’s Office for students at Belt High.
“Mr. Koontz has a unique love for the US Constitution,” said Dollenger. “Every year, within the first couple days of school he hands out everybody a US Constitution and Montana Constitution. He talks about it a lot.”
“I just turned 18 and I have to register to vote. I feel like what (Mr. Koontz) tells us, it makes the voting process not as daunting or scary as you may first think, so that’s nice,” Dollenger added. “It’s also really cool that he does so much with the Constitution for us. As we’ve learned, one of my classmates wants to see about changing the Montana flag to make it more relevant to what made Montana, Montana. Being able to work with (Mr. Koontz) to do that is a great opportunity that not a lot of other students would get.”
“Teaching government is a challenge these days. There’s a lot of polarization, those things we hear about all the time,” said Koontz. “But if you can focus on the Constitution, and I do, I am a Constitution geek, and it’s the one thing that’s consistent within our country. I think it’s the path to our country’s future success, and that it’s not just the most important document in the country, maybe the most important document in the world.
“Democracy only works, it’s rule by the people if all the people get involved. If you get the young people involved, that’s the best hope for the future of our country.”