AUBURN – When Samuel Inman’s history teacher told him she’d received a call from Washington – about him – the 17-year-old figured somebody had made a mistake.

After all, his musings about the spread of nuclear weapons, submitted in an essay to the congressionally sponsored United States Institute of Peace, must be too insignificant for those wise folks.

“I was in shock and kind of stumbled out of the room,” Samuel said, recalling the happy the face of his teacher, Rosanne Ducey.

At home that night, his mom tried to convince him that he’d really won.

“Sam, she wouldn’t have made a mistake like that,” Susan Inman told her son. Two days later, a Federal Express envelope arrived and his selection began to sink in.

Samuel’s essay, “Nuclear Proliferation: Dangerous Result of Systemic Failure,” won the Peace Institute’s $1,000 state prize.

It’s a contender for the $10,000 national award. And the Maine win earned Samuel, a junior at St. Dominic Regional High School, a trip to Washington in June.

He’s not sure what he’ll do. Past winners have visited Congress and foreign embassies, perfect for a teen who hopes to major in political science as an undergrad and attend law school.

His long-term goal: to become a politician.

“I look around today and see so many problems: The energy crisis, nuclear weapons, domestic policies,” Samuel said. “I just hope I can serve soon enough to help.”

He worries that the problems may one day get too bad for anybody to fix.

With nuclear proliferation, he worries that U.S. policies may be hypocritical, creating a thuggish double standard in which the United States has the horrific weapons but condemns others for trying to develop them.

The issue led Samuel to the Internet and the Colby College library in Waterville, where he found stacks of academic analyses.

He worked and re-worked his essay for about a month, before giving it to Ducey to submit to the institute.

Samuel’s mom, the principal of the Captain Stevens Elementary School in Belfast, said her son routinely works on his writing.

And beneath his humility and apparent stoicism, he also hides a dry wit, Susan Inman said.

He has little time for TV’s rapid-fire glibness; instead he favors listening to recordings of old-time radio shows, particularly the driest wit of all, Jack Benny.

“I just find him funny,” Samuel said of the comedian, who died before he was born. “Maybe it is a little weird.”

However, the recordings keep him company during his one-hour-and-45-minute commute to school.

He lives with his parents and sister in the rural town of Albion, outside Waterville. He drives or shares rides to the Auburn school every day.

“It was a tough decision to send Sam there,” said his mom, who worried with his dad, Steven, that the commute to the private school might prove too exhausting.

However, given results such as this award, Susan said she is confident that it was a good decision.

“It was the perfect fit for Sam,” she said.