Live Deliberately Essay Contest

The Walden Woods Project is pleased to announce the winners of the 2019-2020 Live Deliberately Essay Contest!

We received almost 1,000 submissions from 49 states and twelve different countries. Our sincere thanks to the students, sponsors, and volunteers who participated in our contest this year. Read the winning essays here: 

14-16 Age Group
Winner—Matthew Tengtrakool (Burlington, MA)
Honorable Mention—Liam Hannigan (County Donegal, IRELAND)
Honorable Mention—Juliet Varela (Lehigh Acres, FL)

17-18 Age Group
Winner—Abigail Oudekerk (Conway, AR)
Honorable Mention—Sophie Garrigus (Los Angeles, CA)
Honorable Mention—Emily Le (Irvine, CA)

This year’s contestants responded to the following prompt:

April 22, 2020 will mark the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, a day that has, since 1970, been observed with action and advocacy around the world on behalf of our environment. The spirit of environmental stewardship and social responsibility demonstrated on Earth Day are both hallmarks of Thoreau’s legacy. Our prompt this year has been inspired by the history of Earth Day, its critical mission and, in particular, the role that youth are playing in today’s environmental movement.

“I thought with regret how soon these trees, like the black birches that grew on the hill near by, would be all cut off, and there would be almost nothing of the old Concord left, and we should be reduced to read old deeds in order to be reminded of such things,— deeds, at least, in which some old and revered bound trees are mentioned. These will be the only proof at last that they ever existed.”

Journal, November 8, 1858

“It is time we had done referring to our ancestors. We have used up all our inherited freedom, like the young bird the albumen in the egg. It is not an era of repose. If we would save our lives, we must fight for them.”

Journal, June 16, 1854


In 750 words or fewer, please respond to the following prompt: As a society, what natural legacies are we leaving for future generations? Refer to both quotations above to discuss the role of youth in shaping that legacy. You may include examples from others that inspire you, but be sure to also consider/include what role you do or might play in preserving and protecting the natural places that are important to you.

To read essays by Essay Contest winners from previous years, click HERE.

Essay Contest Information and Timeline

Each year, the Live Deliberately Essay Contest invites youth around the world, ages 14-18*, 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 Essay Contest is typically open from mid-November to mid-February and the winners are announced in late March/early April.

The contest has two age groups: 14-16 and 17-18*. One winner will be identified in each age group and will receive a $500 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.

*19-year-olds who are seniors in high school or the equivalent through homeschool or other program at the closing date of the Contest (February 15, 2020) are also eligible, in the 16-18 age group.

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

  • Abdullateef Abdul, lawyer, writer and former Live Deliberately Essay Contest winner
  • Julie Bastedo, high school English teacher in Orchard Park, NY, and Approaching Walden Alumna
  • 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
  • Jazmin Quill, California-based Artist and Consultant
  • Ellen Resnek, high school social studies teacher in Exton, PA, 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!