Live Deliberately Essay Contest

Introducing...the 2018-2019 Essay Contest Prompt!  PLEASE NOTE that this year's deadline is February 15!

“What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on? If you can not tolerate the planet it is on? Grade the ground first. If a man believes and expects great things of himself, it makes no odds where you put him, or what you show him…he will be surrounded by grandeur.”*

H.D. Thoreau, Correspondence to H.G.O. Blake, 20 May 1860

With the quotation above as inspiration, respond to the following in 750 words or fewer: 

What is a change you are passionate about seeing in the world? How can you “grade the ground first” to cultivate that change within yourself? How do the changes we make within ourselves make the world a better place?

*It was common practice in the 19th century to use masculine pronouns when describing the entirety of humankind.  We use Thoreau’s quotation as it was written with the understanding that he was referring to all people.  We encourage youth of all gender identities to participate in the Essay Contest.

Essay Contest Information and Timeline

Each year, the Live Deliberately Essay Contest invites youth around the world, ages 14-21, to consider a selected Henry David Thoreau quotation and accompanying prompt. Contestants are asked to write a thoughtful essay that uses personal experience and observation to demonstrate how that year's quotation and prompt relate to their own lives and to the world around them. Like Thoreau, these young people use the power of their words to convey vivid stories, personal conviction and human compassion.

The contest has 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 February 15. Each essay is reviewed by at least two readers and results are 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.


Thanks to all 2,390 participants of our 2017-2018 Essay Contest! Congratulations to last year's winners! Read their essays below. 

Last year's prompt:

Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked,

in which you can walk with love and reverence.

—Journal, October 18, 1855

In an essay of 750 words or fewer, describe a time in your life when you pursued a path that was “narrow and crooked,” but felt like it was the right path for you. In what ways are/were you able to, as Thoreau advises, walk that path with “love and reverence?” How has navigating that path shaped you into the person you are becoming?

14-16 Age Group:
Winner: S. Jones
Honorable Mention: Matt Mellies
 
17-18 Age Group:
Winner: Jordan Sims
Winner: Halie Tolba
Honorable Mention: Jenna Bao
Honorable Mention: Vanessa Felix
Honorable Mention: Riti Hegde
 
19-21 Age Group:
Winner: Zachary Bull
Honorable Mention: Grace Fullerton


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

  • Lindsay Blount, former Walden Woods Project's Education Programs Assistant and high school English teacher-in-training
  • Samantha Corron, Walden Woods Project's Social Media and Communications Coordinator
  • Lindsay Dent, high school English teacher in Atlanta, GA, and Approaching Walden Alumna
  • Jessica Moore Kaplan, Boston-based editor and producer
  • Erin Shimala, high school English teacher in New Bedford, MA, and Approaching Walden Alumna

Additionally, our contest is made possible by dozens of thoughtful Volunteer Reviewers each year.  To learn more about the roles of both the Advisory Board and the Volunteer Reviewers, download the Live Deliberately Essay Contest Volunteer Opportunities (PDF).  To express interest in being a Volunteer Reviewer, please complete the form found here!