A Long Beach Middle School student has made Mississippi proud. The eighth grader is the first student in the state to place in the top three in a national essay competition. The young man didn't find out about his achievement until Thursday, during a surprise celebration.
Conner Thurtell, 14, walked into the school library with no idea that he just made Mississippi history.
"I was stunned. I just thought, oh my God. What's happening right now," said Conner.
Long Beach Middle School hosted a pizza party to announce that Conner had won third place in the national SIFMA Foundation's InvestWrite essay competition.
"This has not happened in Mississippi before, that we had a young person place in the top three nationally in the InvestWrite competition, and I really think it's important for us to share our successes in Mississippi with our teachers and our students," said Selena Swartzfager, President of the Mississippi Council on Economic Education.
InvestWrite and the accompanying Stock Market Game help young people sharpen their skills in finance and investing. About 20,000 students take this essay challenge every year.
Last fall, students had to write about a company they think had long-term investment potential. Conner chose Tesla Motors, a company that makes electric cars, batteries and charging stations.
"He knows so much more about these companies and their inner workings than I can ever imagine. It excites me that someone his age has an interest in knowing who Tesla is and what they do and what their stock price is," said Swartzfager.
"Based on the people that participated in the program, it's shocking to know that he'd won. I know that he wrote a really good paper, and I'm extremely proud of him," said Conner's dad, Dan Thurtell.
Conner's parents were honored. So were school administrators, community sponsors and his teacher, Trena Attipoe.
Conner also received a prize for his achievement.
"What you do get is a laptop computer with also a detachable tablet. So that's kind of cool, right," Swartzfager asked Conner.
"I can't believe this is all happening. It's like a dream. I'm just so happy they're all here and supporting me. It's such a big shock and an honor," said Conner.
Conner has won first place in the InvestWrite competition at the state level two years in a row.
"I knew that I won first place in InvestWrite in my state, but I had no idea I made it all the way to nationals. It was just a rush of excitement. It was nerve wracking. I have a lot to live up to now," said Conner.
In May, Conner will receive a $100 prize at an awards ceremony in Jackson.
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