Essay Contest

We are pleased to announce the 2022 First-Year Summer Reading Essay Contest, open to all members of Illinois Wesleyan University’s Class of 2026. The general topic of the essay is our Summer Reading selection,
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.  

You will have the opportunity to discuss this selection during Turning Titan: New Student Orientation 2022, take part in programming for this year’s intellectual theme "The Power of Place," and hear the voices of our University community, but the discussion stands incomplete without the most important voice of all—your voice, the many voices of the individuals who are Illinois Wesleyan University’s Class of 2026.


The winner of the essay contest will win a $200 IWU Bookstore Gift Card and will be announced and recognized at New Student Convocation on August 24, 2022.

Entry Criteria

Submissions must be 600-800 words typed/double-spaced, with 12-point font, and 1-inch margins.  The first page of your essay (no cover pages please) should have your full name in the upper left corner and a title centered over the text. Each subsequent page should have your last name and the page number in the upper right corner (e.g., Smith-2).

Please send your submission as an email attachment to by 4pm (CST) on Friday, August 12, 2022. Essays should be submitted in pdf format.


Please select one of the following prompts as a guide for your essay. We are not, however, asking simply for an answer to the prompt; instead we are looking for a coherent, intelligent, and logically organized essay that stems from your reading of Where the Crawdads Sing and related reflections.

  1. The Illinois Wesleyan annual theme for the 2022-2023 academic year is "The Power of Place." Identify specific ways in which the book addresses each aspect of the theme, “The Power of Place."

  2. How might this novel’s themes and ideas apply to a current social issue?

Previous Winners


First Prize: Health and Hope by Abbie Graue '25
Honorable Mention: Lead Poisoning and A Deadly Virus: Two Wakeup Calls for A Nation by Melinda Burgin '25


First Prize: Acceptable Losses by Mars Mulvin '24
Honorable Mention: The Holy Trinity by Anusha Bhojanam '24
Honorable Mention: Ignoring the Cries of the People by Albert Sterner '24


First Prize: A Multitude of Truths by Elise Damasco '23
Honorable Mention: The Innocence of the Innocent by Shivam Dharmendra Patel '23


First Prize: The Power of Transformation by Jared Schneider '22
Honorable Mention: Girl in a Boy Body: The Complexity of Being Oneself by Amanda Smith '22
Honorable Mention: Parallel Transitions of American Towns and Families by Kathryn Vogler '22


First Prize: The Manufacturing of the MENA Race by Gabrielle Ghaderi '21
Honorable Mention: Sibling Worlds by David Nicolas Lopez Moncayo '21
Honorable Mention:The Manmade Construct of Race by Tatum Zsorey '21


First Prize: Differences Between Afghan and American Gender Politics: Subtle Versus Blatant Sexism, and Both Their Dangers by Mary Amanda Breeden '20
Honorable Mention: Global Feminism: A Comparison of Gender Roles in Afghanistan and the United States by Alexa Letourneau '20
Honorable Mention: Endless Possibilities Await by Naing Lin Tun '20


First Prize: Still a Jerk by Benjamin Alan Zentner '19
Honorable Mention: Between Two Worlds by Emma Marie Haan '19
Honorable Mention: The Complexity of Balance by Kathryn Anne Halford '19

Please visit Digital Commons @ IWU to read the prize-winning essays.