Live Deliberately Essay Contest: Past Winners

2015 Winners

In 2014-2015, through a partnership with the deCordova Museum and Sculpture Park and their Walden, revisited exhibition, contestants were asked to respond to the following:

Oscar Palacio, Cooler and Jeans, Walden Pond, MA, 2013 Inkjet print, 32" x 40", courtesy of the artist"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."

--Henry David Thoreau, Journal, Vol. IX, July 21857

In 750 words or fewer, using your understanding of the quote and the image as inspiration, discuss and expand on their shared meaning while integrating your own experiences and observations of the world.





Laura George, 20

Winner, 19-21 Age Group
University of Georgia
Athens, Georgia


I used to wonder how people could be so disparaging and dissatisfied when surrounded by the beautiful Earth. I now suspect they simply aren’t seeing the same world I am. When I was a kid everyone wanted to play outside: to explore, to imagine, to be wild. Back then our eyes glistened with expectation of mystery and our hearts soared with possibility. Today, I don’t see that yearning for wildness burning behind the irises of my peers. Instead, I barely see their eyes at all. They don’t search for answers in the world, but are instead glued to books and screens, glancing up only when absolutely necessary.  Though surrounded by trees, flowers and streams, they seem to see only obstacles along their distracted journeys toward success and achievement. read more


Darin Chaichitatorn, 17

Winner, 17-18 Age Group
Mundelein High School
Mundelein, High School

"Truth in Many Dimensions"

I spent my early childhood believing my father embodied the ultimate superhero, the one that could lock the gaze of the monsters hiding in my closet and make them shrivel in fear, the one that could stop the movement of bullets with a snap of his fingers, the one that fought demons as a side job (just for the pure pleasure of it, of course). After all, this was the same man who ran like the Flash alongside my uneasy pedaling just to keep me from falling the first time I rode a bike without training wheels. He was my safety net, my human bandaid. read more






Caroline Cobb, 18

Honorable Mention, 17-18 Age Group
Falmouth High School
Falmouth, Massachusetts

My cross country coach writes in bold at the bottom of the packet he hands out before each summer, “It’s all about the minutes”. The packet is a calendar with the number of minutes you should run each day in order to prepare for the season. For three years, I religiously followed the packet, wearing a watch every run and turning up my ipod to distract myself from the monotony of a mandatory thirty minutes. For three years, I had also been running the same times in races.

The summer before my senior year, though, disaster struck. I dropped my precious watch and the clasp broke. I had no way to time my runs. How would I prepare for the season? How would I know what was thirty minutes and what was only twenty?  read more






Eva Sombrowski, 16

Winner, 15-16 Age Group
The Fernie Academy
Fernie, BC, Canada


With both hands on the fence I stare out over the water in front of me. I see what is directly before my eyes, but the sting of the barbed wire is enough to remind me that there is more beyond where I stand.  

When my class travelled to Peru last year as a trip with the purpose of learning Spanish as well as helping orphaned boys and impoverished families, I was able to step over the “fence.” I left everything at the side of the pond and dove in. Rather than merely seeing the surface of the world, which is what I had previously desired, I opened myself up in order to see everything under the water. The principle of our trip was to live deliberately, to go and get a new perspective of the world and to help others. read more


Keiley James, 16

Honorable Mention, 15-16 Age Group
St. Pius X Catholic High School
Atlanta, Georgia

"To See and to Register"

Henry David Thoreau says, “Many an object is not seen, though it falls within the range of our visual ray.”  Human beings tend to wander through life blindly, but they have their eyes open.  They are constantly taking in information about their surroundings, but they do not register all of the details.  Subconsciously, humans cannot help it because this is a survival instinct that people are born with. They register what is important but they throw out the details and the things that they deem insignificant in order to protect them from immediate dangers. If people are always distracted with details, they worry they will miss the big picture, but sometimes the big picture can be found in the details.  read more




Emily Redmond, Age 13

Winner, 13-14 Age Group
Park Forest Middle School
State College, Pennsylvania
"Seeing is not Necessarily Understanding"

“Guys, can we not use communists in the game? My relatives were killed by them in China.” And with those words, I realized how blind I had been about my friends, people who “fell within the range of (my) visual ray,” but whose personal lives were not within the range of my “intellectual ray.” My middle school, located in a college town, has a diverse student body made up of kids from various socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds.  Many of my friends, whose parents are professors or students at the college, come from China.  I had not paid much attention to where my friends were from, only focusing on their personalities and their strong desires to do well in school.  Until my friend told us about his relatives being killed in Communist China, I had no idea how dangerous his life was there.  As Henry David Thoreau writes, I didn’t see it because I wasn’t “looking for it“.  read more


2014 Winners

Provided with this quotation from Walden--“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.”--2013-1014 contestants were then asked:

How do you make a difference? In 500 words or fewer, consider your conscious endeavors. 

Timothy Turner, 18

Winner, 18-21 Age Group
Lamar University (Beaumont, Texas)
Lumberton, Texas

"This Present Moment"

In Walden, Henry David Thoreau writes that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation…” As I walk across campus, it pains me to notice that many hide behind a mask, a smile, a laugh, guarding themselves just so others do not see the desperate reality of their “todays.” Reaching for the dreams of tomorrow, they cannot enjoy the present moment. In their pursuit of the “American Dream,” they appear to agree with Thoreau’s belief in the “ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor,” but few find it encouraging, as he did, on their journey to “the top.” read more



Alexander Babey, 21

Honorable Mention, 18-21 Age Group
University of Hartford
West Hartford, Connecticut

No living thing can survive without water. It is a commodity that many, unfortunately, take for granted. In my eyes, it is possibly the most important substance on the planet. The way that I try to help the planet and make my difference in the world is by conserving water. Whether it is a shortened shower or larger loads of laundry, I have made it a part of my daily routine to use less and less water each and every day. And it is not only personal water use. I have reduced non-direct unnecessary water use as well. read more




Jacob Diaz, 18

Honorable Mention, 18-21 Age Group
Mundelein High School
Mundelein, Illinois

"Don't Judge the Kid; Judge the Stereotype"

It was June 18 and four year old I just couldn’t comprehend why other families were celebrating. I ask my mother “What’s so special about today?” It seemed as if I’d just swore at my mother because the look she gave back a was one of clear disappointment.  “Today is Father’s Day” she managed to whisper in a cool voice. That was the first time I’d ever realized that I was fatherless. read more




Maya St. Clair, 17

Winner, 16-17 Age Group
Mundelein High School
Mundelein, Illinois

"Thwarted Juliets"

The perfect Juliet: a murmured line, the gentle tilting of the jaw, a graceful hand, a silent stage awaiting every word. When my school announced that Romeo and Juliet would be our play my sophomore year, it was like meeting a masked dancer at a ball - something you know you’re preordained to spend your life with. For days and weeks, I cultivated Juliet inside me. The daughter of the Capulets was always the big break - for Romeo, and for whatever actress got to play her. I’d yearn - white nightgown billowing, hair loose and waterfalling down your back, and Shakespeare. So much Shakespeare you could drown in it. I sang lines to my hairbrush, kissed the pages of my book, and came out of auditions skipping to the iambs. I thought it was my chance to make a difference, help bring the beauty of the words to school, my own life, everything. read more


Tennant Ross, 16
Honorable Mention, 16-17 Age Group
Keystone School
Marietta, Georgia

"The Universe in You and Me"

Centuries fly by the human race like dashes of golds in coast sunrises, and with each year slipping by us to no longer be committed to the human eye, but rather, a history book, humanity struggles with one lingering prompt: how does one man make a difference?

I have always lived firmly on the foundation that the shell of whom we are as humans is actually more resembling of a mosaic; small fractions and swirls of the world around us composed to one entity. read more


HyunGu Kang, 15

Winner, 13-15 Age Group
University of Toronto Schools
Toronto, ONT  CANADA

Every summer, I put myself through a literature spirit journey. Equipped with a bike, a backpack, and a library card, I pedal to the libraries in my neighbourhood to learn from Kafka and Borges, Shakespeare and Dickens, Plato, Richard Dawkins, and Stephen Hawking. Immersed in the author's universe, struggling not to be overwhelmed by a consciousness much more powerful than my own, I am challenged to test, explore, and strengthen my nature. This, to me, is the purest form of learning. This is my life at Walden Pond. read more





Talia Ruxin, 15

Honorable Mention, 13-15 Age Group
The Winsor School (Boston, Massachusetts)
Lexington, Massachusetts

When I learned that my soccer teammate, classmate, and friend, Jesi, had leukemia, chills raced up my back.

How could I make her better? Surely I could reason out a plan, find the missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle that would help. Frantically, I dashed through a maze of thoughts inside my head but kept crashing into dead-ends.

For the first time, I faced a situation that I couldn’t solve. “The best doctors are treating her,” my mom reassured me. But somehow, hearing that made me fall apart all the more inside; I felt that there must be something I could do to help. read more


2012 Winner 

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."

Jesus Padilla
Grover Cleveland High School
Sherman Oaks, California

...When I write, I am able to express emotions I am too afraid to show in public, voice opinions I am too complacent to say out loud, and for once, have control of absolutely everything. I am neither an average student nor an average writer; I am the king writing the history to a kingdom solely created by me. My work is completely original and representative of myself....We can neither be physically nor spiritually aware of life around us if we are incapable of meditating on our own position in the world. Only by taking brief moments to reflect, evaluate, and cleanse our minds can we become genuinely aware of our thoughts and thus face the world with eyes wide open as “alive” human beings.  read more

2011 Winners             

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."

Annie Wu

Anne Wu, age 19
Winner, Age Group 19-21
Sophmore, Cornell University
Ithaca, New York

....She would tell me about dark, cold mornings when she would wake up before everyone else to cook rice, a chore assigned to the eldest child. I would ask her if she hated those lonely mornings, but she always shook her head. She cherished these quiet hours, a time for hushed contemplation and deep meditation....Everyone reacts to the same hunger and everyone is someone’s child. Living a simpler life is all about perspective. Each person is on a journey that is guided by his or her own set of universal laws, but those long, quiet mornings are embedded in everyone’s lives. They are just waiting to be discovered and treasured.  read more

Veronica L. Alvarado, age 18
Winner, Age Group 16-18
Senior, Sacred Heart Academy
Hempstead, New York

My world is dominated by this instantaneous access to others – their thought, their feelings, and their actions. How am I ever supposed to discover who I truly am when my life is bombarded constantly by other people? Knowing that I was to write this essay, I decided to embark on an experiment. I am an avid runner, who daily exercises with several fellow runners. For the purpose of my experiment I decided to run by myself for a week, in the early hours of the morning, to ensure that I did not encounter anyone else. The alarm clock sounded on Day One of my trial at 5:15 am....  read more

Jackie Roche, age 17
EDCO Greater Boston Winner
Notre Dame Academy
Hingham, Massachusetts, for a month, I stayed away from anything with a lit up background and keys. In a sense, I retreated into the wilderness of modern society: the unwired....Because I gave up so much screen time, I was able to spend my time after homework thinking or reading. I read Jane Austen; I tried new recipes. Sometimes, I even went outside and took a nap in the sunshine. I would press my ear to the blanket, listening to the faint sounds of the moving dirt. The hum of the insects and the flow of the grass would lull me into my daydreams.  read more

Kathleen Costello, age 17
EDCO Massachusetts Winner
Senior, Ursuline Academy
Dedham, Massachusetts

Personally, as a 21st century teenager, it seems as though simplification is nearly impossible to obtain. Time for simplification was most desperately needed when I entered the universally dreaded junior year. Ironically enough, it was also the year when Henry David Thoreau was incorporated into my high school’s English curriculum.  read more

Minna Wang, age 15
Winner, Age Group 13-15
North Utah Academy of Math, Engineering & Science
Layton, Utah

A long, long time ago, there was a little girl who wanted everything. She knew what she wanted to be when she grew up – rich, famous, and married to the perfect boy. She wanted everything, from a huge mansion with a spiral staircase, a huge close, and a pool, diamonds and a pony. She wanted money and fans. Some us would call her shallow, but please remember that she was only a child.  read more 

2010 Winners

The 2010 essay contest asked students to respond to Thoreau's famous call to live deliberately: "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, age 16
Washington Academy
East Machias, Maine

When I was little, my mom and I would go outside into the afternoon sun. With a plan in mind and the sun in our faces, we began to plant our garden. It was such a wonderful world for me. Nothing could compare more

Cameron Shorb, age 16
Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School
Sudbury, Massachusetts

The hallways of school were once a place for routine and tedium, until the day they suddenly seemed a vast Victorian garden, each of the bobbing heads of the masses a finely pruned topiary bush. I had left a young more

Rhea E. Fowler, age 21
The Boston Conservatory
Boston, Massachusetts

Living deliberately means rejecting what is meaningless in order to recognize and appreciate real truth and beauty; this struggle can be very difficult to achieve considering that truth is relative, meaning is personal, and standards of beauty are constantly changing. For Thoreau, more