“What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on? If you can not tolerate the planet it is on? Grade the ground first. If a man believes and expects great things of himself, it makes no odds where you put him, or what you show him…he will be surrounded by grandeur.”*
—H.D. Thoreau, Correspondence to H.G.O. Blake, 20 May 1860
With the quotation above as inspiration, respond to the following in 750 words or fewer:
What is a change you are passionate about seeing in the world? How can you “grade the ground first” to cultivate that change within yourself? How do the changes we make within ourselves make the world a better place?
*It was common practice in the 19th century to use masculine pronouns when describing the entirety of humankind. We use Thoreau’s quotation as it was written with the understanding that he was referring to all people. We encourage youth of all gender identities to participate in the Essay Contest.
Essay Contest Information and Timeline
Each year, the Live Deliberately Essay Contest invites youth around the world, ages 14-21, to consider a selected Henry David Thoreau quotation and accompanying prompt. Contestants are asked to write a thoughtful essay that uses personal experience and observation to demonstrate how that year’s quotation and prompt relate to their own lives and to the world around them. Like Thoreau, these young people use the power of their words to convey vivid stories, personal conviction and human compassion.
The contest has three age groups: 14-16, 17-18, and 19-21. One winner will be identified in each age group and will receive a $250 cash prize, plus an autographed special edition of Walden. Essays may also be selected to receive Honorable Mention in each age group, which will be awarded with an autographed special edition of Walden.
The deadline for essay submission is February 15. Each essay is reviewed by at least two readers and results are announced by the end of April.
Please read the Contest Guidelines for more information about the Contest and some tips to help you write your essay.
For information about past contest winners and to read their essays, click here.