Brecklynn Brown, an eighth grade student at Springville Junior High School, received worldwide attention when her question was read during Wednesday’s vice presidential debate at the University of Utah.
It was the final question of an hour and a half debate between Sen. Kamala Harris, D-CA, and Vice President Mike Pence, and the only question that wasn’t written by moderator Susan Page, of USA Today.
“I want to close tonight’s debate with a question posed by Brecklynn Brown,” Page told the vice presidential candidates.
“When I watch the news, all I see is citizen fighting against citizen,” Page read. “When I watch the news, all I see are two candidates from opposing parties trying to tear each other down. If our leaders can’t get along, how are the citizens supposed to get along?”
“Your examples could make all the difference to bring us together,” Brown’s question continued. “How is your presidency going to unite and heal our country?”
The question came from an essay Brown wrote as part of a statewide contest sponsored by the Utah Debate Commission and Utah State Board of Education. Students were asked to submit 300-word essays answering the question: “If you could ask the vice presidential candidates one question, what would you ask and why?”
Brown’s essay was chosen out of 700 submissions, said Lana Hiskey, spokesperson for the Nebo School District.
Pence and Harris both thanked the Utah County student for her question and applauded her interest in politics and public affairs.
“I started following the news when I was very young, and in America, we believe in a free and open exchange of debate,” Pence said. “And we celebrate that. It’s how we’ve created literally the freest and most prosperous nation in the history of the world.”
“Here in America, we can disagree, we can debate vigorously, as Sen. Harris and I have on this stage tonight,” the vice president continued. “But, when the debate is over, we come together as Americans.”
Harris said that “hate and division” in American politics is what propelled former Vice President Joe Biden, her running mate, to run for president and noted that Biden has “a longstanding reputation of working across the aisle and working in a bipartisan way.”
“I love hearing from our young leaders,” Harris said. “And when I hear her words, when I hear your words, Brecklynn, I know our future is bright. Because it is that perspective on who we are and who we should be that is a sign of leadership and is something that we should all aspire to be.”
In a written statement following the debate, Brown said it “was both shocking and amazing to be able to ask a question to Vice President Pence and Senator Harris” and that it “felt good to be heard.”
“I’m so glad a question that meant so much to me also meant so much to other Americans,” the eighth grade student said. “As we were talking in my history class about the many issues happening in our country, I realized the importance of listening and respecting each other.”
“I hope we can all try a little harder to understand one another and that we can all do our part to unite our country,” Brown added.
Amy Burge, Brown’s history teacher at Springville Junior High School, said she saw the essay contest as “an opportunity for my students to really think about what is important to them” and as “an authentic writing experience where they had a chance to get their voices heard.”
“And finally, it was a chance to be civilly engaged," Burge said in a written statement.
Wednesday’s debate was the only vice presidential debate that will take place this election. The second presidential debate between Biden and President Donald Trump, which was scheduled to take place in Miami on Oct. 15, was canceled on Friday.