A Madison High School senior took the top honors of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society’s student-essay contest on democracy and civil rights winning a $1,000 prize.

Richard Alec Merski, of Vienna, won the senior division of the “making democracy work” contest organized by the society for his essay. Fairfax County’s Madison High will also receive a $1,000 grant as part of Merski’s honor.

“Richard’s essay reflected a deep understanding of the rights and responsibilities of citizens in our representative form of government,” said society president Ron Sarasin, a former congressman from Connecticut.

Merski’s work centered on military service and sacrifice in the defense of the country.

“Liberty is never free,” Merski wrote in his essay. “The American democratic experiment remains a fragile test of freedom against the threat of tyranny. To endure, it will need to be nurtured with dedication, vigilance, and the unrelenting resolve of its citizens to assume individual responsibility for safeguarding their enviable rights.”

Hundreds of students, in grades six through 12, have participated in the contest. This year's essay prompt asked students to reflect on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and consider what rights, responsibilities and protections the bill and the Declaration of Independence give American citizens.