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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Just Mercy: Common Reading Essay Contest Prompts
- Bryan Stevenson writes, “Mercy is most empowering, liberating, and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving” (314). Describe a time you witnessed or experienced the concept of “just mercy” that Stevenson writes about in his book. What did you learn from that experience? Be sure to connect your experience to the ideas in Stevenson’s book.
- One of the most powerful ideas in the Just Mercy is Stevenson’s insistence that “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done” (17-18). Later in the book, he builds on this claim with his realization that his own brokenness shapes him and helps him do what he does. He writes, “our brokenness is the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection sustains our capacity for compassion” (289). Write about how your own sense of brokenness shapes you and the work you are doing or plan to do for social justice.
- Chapter 16 of Just Mercy introduces readers to a woman who lost her beloved grandson to violence. In the midst of her grief, she decides to become an advocate for young people in the criminal justice system explaining, “I don’t know, it’s a lot of pain. I decided that I was supposed to be here to catch some of the stones people cast at each other” (308). Write a profile of someone who is a “stonecatcher” like this woman. How does the person you are profiling embody the ideals Stevenson writes about?
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 summary of 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:
- Move the argument or main idea along.
- Have a strong topic sentence.
- 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:
- A title for your essay.
- 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.
- No spelling or grammatical mistakes.
- Appropriate length: About 600-750 words (at least 2 full pages).
Congratulations to Shepherd freshman, Casey Otto, whose multimodal essay/artwork submission was selected as the winner of the 2015-2016 Common Reading Student Essay Contest. Click here for photos and the full press release. Special thanks to our judges: Dr. Heidi Dobish, Dr. Heidi Hanrahan, and Dr. Timothy Nixon.