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Essay Contest College Common Reading

The Common Reading Program Brings Author to Campus; Essay Contest Winners Read Work

Updated Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Author Jeff Goins strolled through The Theresa and Edward O’Toole Library. He read through the bios and excerpts from students’ personal essays; taking as much of an interest in them as they recently took in him. The essays were all personal narratives inspired by his book, The Art of Work, which was the Common Reading Program choice for this year’s incoming freshmen.

Goins was on campus to deliver the keynote speech as part of the Common Reading Program.

“The Common Reading Program is an intellectual experience designed to bring the freshmen class together through shared readings and discussions centered around a common theme,” said Constance Wagner, writing program director.

The Art of Work was chosen as the Common Reading Program because the book encourages readers to seek and act upon passions that give their lives meaning, a topic appropriate for college-age readership. During his keynote presentation, Goins highlighted tips from his book, including “Who you are is practice for who you are going to be.” He shared with the students his three “secrets” for living a purposeful life:

“You can’t plan your purpose, you can’t control your outcome and you can’t wait for clarity,” he said.

As part of the program, students had been encouraged by professors in the English department to write personal essays based on the book and submit them to the Common Reading Program essay contest. Winning essays and author bios were on display in the library and students read from their pieces at a recent symposium.

“One of the main joys of judging the essay contest is finding student work that draws on so many different approaches to the same material found in a common text. This year’s pieces featured work that ranged from literary non-fiction to straightforward biography to personal reflection. All very intriguing!” said Wagner.

The winners of the special distinction award were Ripunjay Singh ’21, Alejandro Gomez ’21, Jili Zhu ’21, Brian Bates ’21 and Esther Kolade ’21. Honorable mentions included Dakota Stein ’21, David Rampersad ’21, Chantel Elliott ’21, Mark Mineses ’21 and Anna Maguire ’21.

“The ongoing purpose for the essay contest, indeed for the Common Reading Program itself, is to provide freshmen with a shared platform for intellectual exploration that centers around the written word. This year’s book—The Art of Work—has certainly kept students artfully engaged in the writing process AND in the process of discovering themselves,” said Wagner.

Student Essay Contest

Common Reading Student Essay Contest
Shepherd students are encouraged to enter the Common Reading Student Essay Contest. Please share these guidelines with students and encourage them to enter. Entries should be emailed to shollida@shepherd.edu and are being accepted now through April 1. The winner will receive $350 towards Shepherd University tuition or the purchase of an education-related device or tech gadget. Entries are judged by a panel of three faculty members using a rubric developed by the English Department. Essays written for a specific class or other assignment are acceptable.

Breaking Night: Common Reading Essay Contest Prompts

Choose one of the following three prompts:

  • Throughout the text, the institutions (and the people associated with them) that are supposed to help children like Liz (and their families) often fail her. But that isn’t always the case. Write an essay in which you make an argument about what this book suggests about why some of the institutions/social services failed Liz and/or her family and others succeeded. Think about and discuss what larger comment the book might be making about these institutions (and the people who work for them) in our country.
  • Breaking Night makes it clear that family and friends can be both a burden and a source of strength and/or comfort. Pick one relationship to focus on and make an argument about how it serves those contradictory roles in Liz’s life. You might chose to focus on just one family member (i.e., her father, Carlos) or one symbol of that paradox (i.e., her mom’s NA coin, her mother’s picture). What does Liz ultimately learn from those contradictions that helps her reconcile them and move forward?
  • If you were to describe Liz Murray in one word, it might be resilient—able to persist in the face of adversity and challenges. Write an essay in which you make an argument about what Liz can teach a college student about resilience.

A winning entry does/has the following elements:

  • A clear and coherent thesis statement/main idea that appears in the first paragraph and clearly relates to the prompt you have selected. A reader should be able to easily identify this sentence and say “THIS is what this paper is about.” A good response is not a summaryof the text.
  • Textual evidence to support each point and move your argument along. Every claim you make should be supported with evidence from the text. Make sure this evidence is integrated into your overall argument. Do not simply drop in quotations without any analysis (explaining how they advance your main idea). Avoid quoting extremely long passages, especially without analysis.
  • Properly formatted citations. You may use whatever citation style is appropriate (MLA, APA, etc.), but be sure to be consistent and accurate in your format.
  • A coherent, clear structure. Each paragraph should:
    1. Move the argument or main idea along.
    2. Have a strong topic sentence.
    3. Move to the next section with clear transitions.
  • A conclusion. Your piece should have some sort of conclusion that wraps things up, even if all you do is raise more questions.
  • Proper formatting. This includes:
    1. A title for your essay.
    2. Typed; double-spaced; in a reasonable font (Times New Roman 12 pt. or Arial 11 pt.); one-inch margins all around; stapled; your name, the course title (if applicable), the instructor’s name (if applicable), and the date in the upper left-hand corner of the first page; page numbers should appear on the upper right-hand corner of each page.
    3. No spelling or grammatical mistakes.
    4. Appropriate length: About 600-750 words (at least 2 full pages).

Congratulations to Shepherd freshman, Linnea Meyer, whose essay submission was selected as the winner of the 2016-2017 Common Reading Student Essay Contest. Click here for photos and the full press release.  Special thanks to our judges: Dr. Heidi Hanrahan, Dr. Laura Robertson, and Dr. Julia Sandy

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