Live Deliberately Essay Contest

Thank you to all 1,439 of our 2018-2019 Contestants!

We are happy to share this year’s winners:

14-16 Age Group:
Winner—Andrew Dewar (Macedon, NY)
Honorable Mention- Keenan Hodge (Brainerd, MN)
Honorable Mention—Hannah Pais (Burlington, MA)

17-18 Age Group:
Winner—Ariana De Jesús-Pagán (San Juan, Puerto Rico)
Winner—Josh Groven (Eagan, MN)
Honorable Mention—Paetyn Monroe (Van Buren, AR)

19-21 Age Group:
The Essay Contest Advisory Board did not select a winner for this age group this year.

Participants responded to the following prompt:

“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 fewerWhat 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.

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

The prompt for the 2019-2020 Live Deliberately Essay Contest will be posted here by November 15, 2019!


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
  • 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
  • Sarah Walker, Walden Woods Project’s Education Programs Assistant/Communications Coordinator

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!