Past Winners

2022-2023 Essay Contest

“We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and Titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.” — Walden, Henry David Thoreau

2022 marked the centennial of Walden Pond becoming a state reservation. Walden Pond remained a special place to Henry David Thoreau even after he left his house in Walden Woods. He returned to the woods every day to observe, think, and write. Consider Thoreau’s passage above. In 750 words or less, thoughtfully convey what, who, or where you can never have enough of and how your experience has taught you to exceed your own limits. 

14-16 Age Group

Winner: Arooba Khan (Houston, Texas)

17-19 Age Group

Winner: Skye Kletz (Murfreesboro, Tennessee) 


2021-2022 Essay Contest

“Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.” —Henry David Thoreau, Walden

With the above quote as inspiration, please respond to the following prompt in 750 or fewer words: Thoughtfully convey your experience living through the global pandemic. What did you lose? What did you find? What weaknesses and strengths about your world have been exposed by the pandemic and how will you use your experience to move forward? 

14-16 Age Group
Winner- Myra Stray ( Waukesha, WI)
Honorable Mention- Katharine Peng (Sewickley, PA)

17-19 Age Group
Winner- Jamie Lim (Colleyville, TX)
Honorable Mention-Nneoma Magnus-Nwakuna (Colorado Springs, CO)

2020-2021 Essay Contest

“Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.” —  Henry David Thoreau to H.G.O. Blake, 27 March 1848

In 750 words or fewer, please respond to the following prompt: Referring to the above quote, what does it mean to aim above morality for you? Why is it important, in the short-term or long-term, to be good for something?

14-16 Age Group
Winner- Samuel Cui (Rochester, NY)

17-19 Age Group
Winner- Zhenyu Qiu (Beijing, China)
Honorable Mention- Kathryn LaLonde (Takoma Park, Maryland)

2019-2020 Essay Contest

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.

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)

2018-2019 Essay Contest

“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.”* —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.

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.

2017-2018 Essay Contest

We broke another record this year with 2,390 participants who responded to the following quotation:

“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked,
in which you can walk with love and reverence.”
Journal, October 18, 1855

Contestants were asked to describe a time in their life when they pursued a path that was “narrow and crooked,” but felt like it was the right path for them and to discuss how they were able to, as Thoreau advises, walk that path with “love and reverence” as that path shaped them into the person they have become.

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

2016-2017 Essay Contest

We received a record-breaking 1,100 entries  for the 2016-2017 Live Deliberately Essay Contest!  We incorporated two quotations:

“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

Contestants were asked to “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?”

14-16 Age Group:
Winner—Nuha Syed (Teaneck, NJ)
Honorable Mention—Brienna Burkett (Simi Valley, CA)
Honorable Mention—Nikki Kershner (Jacksonville, FL)
Honorable Mention—Amanda Nguyen (Burke, VA)

17-18 Age Group:
Winner—Shana Hadi (Los Angeles, CA)
Honorable Mention—Alice Dempsey (Chapel Hill, NC)
Honorable Mention—Thomas Macartney (Santa Monica, CA)
Honorable Mention—Tia Parisi (Madison, WI)

19-21 Age Group:
Winner—Elizabeth Hazzard (Atlanta, GA)
Honorable Mention—Spencer Day (Sandy, UT)
Honorable Mention—Patrick Mulcahey (Newtown, PA)

2015-2016 Essay Contest

The quotation for the 2015-2016 contest was, from Walden, “Who shall say what prospect life offers to another? Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”  Contestants were asked to thoughtfully convey a time when they either experienced or witnessed the type of “miracle” that Thoreau describes.

Traditional Essay Contest

13-14 Age Group:
Winner—Penelope Sanchez (San Diego, California)

15-16 Age Group:
Winner—Richa Gupta (Bangalore, Karnataka, INDIA)
Honorable Mention—Raven Davis-Bailey (Hiram, Maine)

17-18 Age Group:
Winner—Emyli Bassett-Humble (Machesney Park, Illinois)
Honorable Mention—Anita Onyimah (Acworth, Georgia)
Honorable Mention—Tracy Robinson (Fort White, Florida)

19-21 Age Group:
Winner—Abdullateef Abdul (Ajah, Lagos, NIGERIA)

Visual Essay Contest

Combined Age Group:
Winner—Tyler Thomas (Marshall, Texas)

_Cooler and Jeans_ by Oscar Palacio

2014-2015 Essay Contest

The quotation for the 2014-2015 contest was, from Thoreau’s Journal, “Many an object is not seen, though it falls within our visual ray, because it does not come within the range of our intellectual ray, i.e., we are not looking for it. So, in the largest sense, we find only the world we look for.” Contestants were asked to discuss the meaning of the quotation, while integrating the image to the right (which was part of the Walden, revisited exhibition at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum), their own experiences and observations of the world.

13-14 Age Group:
Winner—Emily Redmond (State College, Pennsylvania)

15-16 Age Group:
Winner—Eva Sombrowski (Fernie, BC, CANADA)
Honorable Mention—Keiley James (Atlanta, Georgia)

17-18 Age Group:
Winner—Darin Chaichitatorn (Mundelein, Illinois)
Honorable Mention—Caroline Cobb (Falmouth, Massachusetts)

19-21 Age Group:
Winner—Laura George (Athens, Georgia)

2013-2014 Essay Contest

The quotation for the 2013-2014 contest was, from Walden, “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.” Students were then asked to share how do they make differences of their own and by what conscious endeavors they do so.

13-15 Age Group:
Winner—HyunGu Kang (Toronto, Ontario, CANADA)
Honorable Mention—Talia Ruxin (Lexington, Massachusetts)

16-17 Age Group:
Winner—Maya St. Clair (Mundelein, Illinois)
Honorable Mention—Tennant Ross (Marietta, Georgia)

18-21 Age Group:
Winner—Timothy Turner (Lumberton, Texas)
Honorable Mention—Alexander Babey (West Hartford, Connecticut)

Honorable Mention—Jacob Diaz (Mundelein, Illinois)

2011-2012 Essay Contest

The 2012 essay contest asked students to respond to this quote from Thoreau’s Walden:”The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake.”

Winner-Jesus Padilla (Sherman Oaks, California)

2010-2011 Essay Contest

The 2011 essay contest asked students to respond to this quote from Thoreau’s Walden:”In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness.”

13-15 Age Group:
Winner—Minna Wang (Layton, Utah)

16-18 Age Group:
Winner—Veronica L. Alvarado (Hempstead, New York)
EDCO Greater Boston Winner—Jackie Roche (Hingham, Massachusetts)
EDCO Massachusetts Winner—Kathleen Costello (Dedham, Massachusetts)

19-21 Age Group:
Winner—Anne Wu (Ithaca, New York)

2009-2010 Essay Contest

The 2010 essay contest asked students to respond to Thoreau’s famous call to live deliberately, from Walden: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Elizabeth Hull (East Machias, Maine)
Cameron Shorb (Sudbury, Massachusetts)
Rhea E. Fowler (Boston, Massachusetts)