"It is within the mere walls of a museum that we are able to grapple with the conditions of man's existence."

That was written by a girl yet to finish high school, in an essay that has just won her a $1000 prize.

At a prizegiving yesterday evening, Aquinas College Year 13 student Lilli Scott was announced as the senior winner of an essay competition aimed at engaging youth in Tauranga's proposed museum project.

In the competition, instigated by museum advocacy group Taonga Tauranga, students were asked to define their idea of a modern museum and justify why Tauranga and the wider Western Bay would benefit from one.

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The essays were judged by Labour MP Jan Tinetti. She said Lilli's essay, which focused on the educational benefits of a modern museum for Tauranga, was "exceptional".

"Her grasp of celebrating history to shape our present and future is profound. I'm excited to observe her future pathways."

Lilli Scott speaks at the prizegiving this evening. Photo/George Novak
Lilli Scott speaks at the prizegiving this evening. Photo/George Novak

Liv Donovan-Grammer of Otumoetai College was the runner-up in the senior category, winning $500.

Tinetti praised Liv's understanding of how a museum could connect people by celebrating identity.

Both winners in the junior section, for Year 9 and 10 students, were also from Otumoetai College - Amy McAulay and Carla Roberts.

They have won a return trip to Dunedin to visit the studios of Animation Research Ltd, a company that creates graphics for museums and major sports tournaments.

Tinetti, who could not be at the presentation, said she "incredibly impressed" by the standard of essays entered and excited by the in-depth knowledge students displayed of what had, at times, been a "contentious issue for Tauranga".

"The importance of celebrating our city and our unique journeys to where we are today has at times been overshadowed by arguments from people who don't understand the concept of a museum and how important it is for Tauranga."

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She said she hoped to share the winning entries with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is also the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage.