Walden Woods Project Essay Contests

Live Deliberately Essay Contest Guidelines & Tips for Writing your Essay

  • Submission: Essays should be submitted using the online form only. Please do not email or mail entries. Each participant can submit one entry for consideration (per year).  The youth or his or her adult sponsor (see below) can submit the essay.
  • Deadline: The 2017-2018 Essay Contest Deadline is March 15, 2018. Entries received after Midnight EST on that day will not be considered.
  • Length: Essays should be no longer than 750 words. This is a maximum word count; if your response to the prompt can be clearly and powerfully communicated in fewer than 750 words, that is great.
  • Eligibility: The contest is open to youth around the world. Youth must be at least 14 years and no older than 21 years of age at the time of submission. Past winners are not eligible to participate.
  • Adult Sponsor: Each contestant who is 17 years of age or younger must have a teacher, club advisor, parent, or other adult sponsor. The sponsor will serve as the contact between the Walden Woods Project and the student. He or she MUST review the contestant's work prior to submission to ensure that it meets essay guidelines. (REVISED 2.9.18: By entering the sponsor's information on the submission form, the contestant attests that his/her sponsor has reviewed the essay.)
  • Language: Essays should be written in English and represent the youth's original work.  Youth are welcome to write their essay in their own language but it must be translated into English prior to submission.
  • Original Work: A teacher/sponsor can provide pre-writing activities and appropriate review, editing, and translation support, but the ideas, content, structure and style of the actual essay MUST come from the youth alone.
  • Titling Documents for Submission: To help us organize and manage the significant number of files that are submitted, please use the following guidelines when titling your document prior to submission (REVISED 2.9.18: essays that are not saved with this naming format will lose 3 of a total possible 60 points in the review process):
    • Please name the file "LastnameFirstinitial_Essay2018". For example, our Director of Education, Whitney Retallic's submission would be titled "RetallicW_Essay2018".
  • Winners: A panel of reviewers selected by the Walden Woods Project will judge entries and will award one Winner and a limited number of Honorable Mentions for each of three age categories: 14-16 yrs, 17-18 yrs, and 19-21 yrs. Winning essays and those receiving Honorable Mention will be featured on our website, alongside a brief profile and picture of the author.
  • Prizes: The winner for each age group will receive a $250 cash prize, a certificate of recognition from the Walden Woods Project and a copy of Walden: A Fully Annotated Edition,  autographed by the book's editor, Jeffrey S. Cramer, our Curator of Collections at the Walden Woods Project's Thoreau Institute Library. Contestants who receive Honorable Mention will receive a certificate of recognition and an autographed copy of Walden: A Fully Annotated Edition. For the winners in each age group, the cash prize will come in the form of a check (in the US) or wire (outside of US).  If the check expires or is lost, a $29 cancellation fee will be deducted from the total when the check is re-issued.
  • Evaluation Criteria: Each submission is read by at least two reviewers. Essays will be evaluated using the following criteria:
    • Addresses PromptThe essay effectively takes into account, either literally or metaphorically, the entirety of the prompt.
    • Focus—The thesis/main message is clear and supported throughout. The essay does not stray from the main message.
    • Organization & Structure—The essay is organized and well-structured. Author demonstrates command of grammar, spelling and mechanics.
    • Voice/Originality—The essay uses a highly engaging and personal style. The author finds fresh or interesting ways to convey ideas. The author approaches the topic from a unique perspective.
    • Evidence of Personal Reflection—The essay demonstrates that the author has genuinely explored the topic/question and how it relates to his or her own life. The essay reflects a depth in reflection.

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Tips & Suggestions for Writing Your Essay

  1. Make the essay personal. Make a personal statement or tell a story that provides insight into your own experiences and views. Use the pronoun "I".
  2. Use "talk it out" or "rapid free write" activities to spark ideas. Pretend a journalist or interviewer has asked you to comment on the essay prompt. Respond out loud, off the top of your head. Record your response or have a friend take notes about what you said. Alternatively, give yourself five minutes to write a response. Don't stop to edit yourself. Just write. Analyze your response. What worked? What didn't? Were there any particularly strong points or angles?  Repeat the activity. This time, deliberately change your approach (try to answer the question a different way).
  3. Try an idea web or mapping brainstorm activity. Use a graphic organizer or make your own. Draw a circle or bubble at the center of a piece of paper. Write 1-3 words that capture the essay topic or theme inside the bubble. Think about words, ideas, memories associated with the theme. Write each in other bubbles surrounding the one in the center.
  4. Visit the "For Students" section of the Walden Woods Project website for inspiration. Read and discuss excerpts from Thoreau's works.
  5. Browse the This I Believe website for examples of great essays. This I Believe is a well-known essay program that presents amazing personal statements and stories written by a wide variety of people, including students.

Live Deliberately Essay Contest

2016-2017 Live Deliberately Essay Contest prompt is announced!

“Let me say to you and to myself in one breath, Cultivate the tree which you have found to bear fruit in your soil. Regard not your past failures nor successes. All the past is equally a failure and a success; it is a success in as much as it offers you the present opportunity.”

—Journal, after 16 July 1850

“Old trees are our parents, and our parents’ parents, perchance. If you would learn the secrets of Nature, you must practice more humanity than others.”

—Journal, 23 October 1855

For your essay, in 750 words or fewer:

Consider the different meanings of trees, cultivation, and soil as Thoreau uses them in the passages above. What guidance does Thoreau offer us in these quotations about living a deliberate life full of humanity and meaning? How do you “cultivate the tree which you have found to bear fruit in your soil” and why is that important? Use specific examples to support your ideas.

SUBMIT YOUR ESSAY HERE, by March 15, 2017

Please read the Contest Guidelines before submitting.

Essay Contest Timeline and Information

Each year, the Live Deliberately Essay Contest invites youth ages 14-21 from around the world to respond to a selected quotation from Henry David Thoreau, reflecting on how his words and ideas are still alive and relevant in their lives and in the world. The 2016-2017 Contest will have three age groups: 14-16, 17-18, and 19-21. One winner will be identified in each age group and will receive a $250 cash prize, plus an autographed special edition of Walden.  Essays may also be selected to receive Honorable Mention in each age group, which will be awarded with an autographed special edition of Walden.

The deadline for essay submission is March 15, 2017. Each essay is reviewed by at least two readers and results will be announced by the end of April.

Please read the Contest Guidelines for more information about the Contest and some tips to help you write your essay.

For information about past contest winners and to read their essays, click here.

The Live Deliberately Essay Contest is guided by the talented members of the Essay Contest Advisory Board:

  • Sam Corron, Walden Woods Project’s Social Media and Communications Coordinator
  • Lindsay Dent, high school English teacher in Georgia and Approaching Walden Alum
  • Susan Licher, Walden Woods Project’s Education Programs Intern
  • Patricia Smith, high school English teacher in Virginia and Approaching Walden Alum
  • Laura Warren, middle school English teacher in Massachusetts and Approaching Walden Alum

Additionally, our contest is made possible by a number of thoughtful volunteer Guest Readers during each review cycle.  To learn more about the roles of both the Advisory Board and the Guest Readers, download the Live Deliberately Essay Contest Volunteer Opportunities (PDF).

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