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2016 Live Deliberately Essay Contest

2016 Live Deliberately Essay Contest

We are excited to announce the 2015-2016 prompt, as well as two new developments to our Contest this year! In addition to our traditional Essay Contest, we are introducing a Visual Essay Contest. And we are now awarding a $250 cash prize to the winner of each age group in each category!


“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?”

–Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Thoughtfully convey a time when you either experienced or witnessed the type of “miracle” that Thoreau describes in the quotation above.


World Wide Waldens


The winner for each age group of each contest category (traditional essay and visual essay) will receive a $250 cash prize, a certificate of recognition from the Walden Woods Project and a special autographed copy of Walden.

Students receiving Honorable Mention in each category will receive a certificate of recognition. Winning essays and those receiving Honorable Mention will be featured on the World Wide Waldens website along with a profile and picture of the student.


March 15, 2016


  • Contest is open to youth ages 13-21 around the globe. Deadline for submissions is March 15, 2016. Participants are allowed to submit one entry per category (traditional essay and/or visual essay) in the appropriate age group.
  • If participating in the Live Deliberately Essay Contest, your submission should be a well-developed essay of no more than 750 words. Click here to submit.
  • If participating in the Live Deliberately Visual Essay Contest, your submission should include one original visual image and a well-developed written explanation of why you chose that image, between 250-400 words. Click here to submit.
  • Submission: Essays (both written and visual) should be submitted using the online form only. Please do not email or mail entries. Each student can enter only one essay for each contest deadline. A participant can submit one entry for each arm of the contest (traditional Essay Contest and/or Visual Essay Contest).  The youth or his or her adult sponsor (see below) can submit the essay.
  • Deadline: The 2015-2016 Essay Contest Deadline is March 15, 2016. Entries received after Midnight EST on that day will not be considered.
  • Length: For the traditional Essay Contest, essays should be no longer than 750 words. This is a maximum word count; if your ideas can be clearly and powerfully communicated in fewer than 750 words, that is great.  For the Visual Essay Contest, entrants should submit one original image and a well-developed accompanying written statement explaining why he or she chose that image. The accompanying essay should be between 250-400 words.  Visual Essay submissions that do not include both the image and the written accompaniment will not be considered.
  • Eligibility: The contest is open to youth around the world. Youth must be at least 13 years and no older than 21 years of age at the time of submission. Past winners are not eligible to participate.
  • Adult Sponsor: Each contestant who is 17 years of age or younger must have a teacher, club advisor, parent, or other adult sponsor. The sponsor will serve as the contact between the Walden Woods Project and the student. He or she should also review the contestant’s work prior to submission to ensure that it meets essay guidelines.
  • Language: Essays should be written in English and represent the youth’s original work.  Visual images also need to reflect the contestant’s original work (whether it is artwork, photography, etc.). Youth are welcome to write their essay in their own language but it must be translated into English for submission.
  • Original Work: The teacher/sponsor can provide pre-writing activities and appropriate review, editing, and translation support. The ideas, content, structure and style of the actual essay should come from the youth alone.
  • Visual Image: If participating in the Visual Essay Contest, the Visual Image submitted should be a single, original, “still” work–photograph, drawing, painting, etc. Videos or series of still works will not be considered.
  • Titling Documents for Submission: To help us organize and manage the significant number of files that are submitted, we ask you to follow the following guidelines when titling your documents prior to submission:
  • For the traditional Essay Contest, please name the file “LastnameFirstinitial_Essay2016”. For example, our Director of Education, Whitney Retallic’s submission would be titled “RetallicW_Essay2016”.
  • For the Visual Essay Contest, please name the file “LastnameFirstinitial_Image2016”. For example, our Director of Education, Whitney Retallic’s submission would be titled “RetallicW_Image2016”. And please name the file for the accompanying narrative “LastnameFirstinitial_Narrative2016”. For example, our Director of Education, Whitney Retallic’s submission would be titled “RetallicW_Narrative2016”.
  • Winners: A panel of reviewers selected by the Walden Woods Project will judge entries and will award one Winner and a limited number of Honorable Mentions for each of four age categories: 13-14 yrs, 15-16 yrs, 17-18 yrs, and 19-21 yrs. The entries in the traditional Essay Contest and the Visual Essay Contest will be reviewed separately and winners will be identified in each age group for each of the two arms of the Contest.
  • Evaluation Criteria (Written Work): Essays will be evaluated using the following criteria:
    1) Focus and Organization: The essay clearly addresses the contest question or topic
    and is well-structured. Key points and ideas stand out.
    2) Voice and Originality: The essay is compelling and uses a highly engaging and
    personal style. The student finds fresh or interesting ways to convey ideas.
    3) Evidence of Personal Reflection: The essay shows that the student has genuinely
    explored the topic and how it relates to his or her own life, beliefs, and actions.
  • Evaluation Criteria (Visual Work): Visual Images will be evaluated using the following criteria:
    1) Composition: The image is well-composed, taking into account artistic elements such as light, balance, perspective, focus, etc.
    2) Originality: The image reflects creativity and uniqueness in its response to the essay prompt
    3) Evidence of Personal Reflection: The subject matter reflects significant thoughtfulness in the choice of subject matter, representation, symbolism, etc.
  • Make the essay personal. Make a personal statement or tell a story that provides insight into your own experiences and views. Use the pronoun “I”.
  • Use “talk it out” or “rapid free write” activities to spark ideas. Pretend a journalist or interviewer has asked you to comment on the essay topic. Respond out loud, off the top of your head. Record your response or have a friend take notes about what you said. Alternatively, give yourself five minutes to write a response. Don’t stop to edit yourself. Just write. Analyze your response. What worked? What didn’t? Were there any particularly strong points or angles?  Repeat the activity. This time, deliberately change your approach (try to answer the question a different way).
  • Try an idea web or mapping brainstorm activity. Use a graphic organizer or make your own. Draw a circle or bubble at the center of a piece of paper. Write 1-3 words that capture the essay topic or theme inside the bubble. Think about words, ideas, memories associated with the theme. Write each in other bubbles surrounding the one in the center.
  • Visit the Read Thoreau section of the World Wide Waldens site for inspiration. Read and discuss excerpts from Thoreau’s Walden.
  • Browse the This I Believe website for examples of great essays. This I Believe is well-known essay program that presents amazing personal statements and stories written by a wide variety of people, including students.


For more information and to view prior prompts and winning essays, visit the Essay Contest page of our World Wide Waldens website.


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