“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?
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.
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:
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!