Facing History Student Essay Contest: Frequently Asked Questions


This contest invites students to reflect on who or what has influenced how they think about their roles and responsibilities as engaged members of their communities. With the opportunity to reflect, express, and organize their thoughts through the written word, students can prepare themselves to be caring and engaged global citizens.

The 2018 Facing History Together Student Essay Contest will award over $25,000 in scholarships and prizes to students and teachers. Presented by Facing History in partnership with WGBH, sponsored by Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation's Holocaust Remembrance Project and The Allstate Foundation, and with support from Citizen Film and WTTW, the contest will highlight themes in the upcoming PBS documentary film, American Creed.

The contest is open to students in the US, Canada (excluding Quebec), and United Kingdom who are 13 years or older. Responses are to be submitted in 500-word essays. Facing History will select finalists whose essays will be posted on Facing History’s website; public voting will then help select the winners.

Three $5,000 (£4,000​) Upstander Scholarships will be awarded to students in 7th–12th grade (years 9–13 in the UK) and their teacher will also receive a $500 (£400) Classroom Award. At least one $5,000 (£4,000​) Upstander Scholarship will be designated for a graduating senior.

Seven $1,000 (£800) Upstander Awards will also be awarded to students in 7th–12th grade (years 9–13 in the UK) and their teacher will also receive a $250 (£200) Classroom Award.


This essay contest will officially open for submissions at facinghistory.org/ideals on March 1 and close on March 29, at 9:00 p.m. EST. Finalists will be revealed for public voting to help select the winners no later than April 30; public voting will close on May 4 at 9:00 p.m. EST. Overall winners of the contest will be announced on or around May 8.


Each submission must respond to the writing prompt in no more than 500 words and must demonstrate thoughtful reflection on how students have applied what they have learned to how they wish to participate in their world. Judges will be looking for originality and a strong personal voice in each essay. The most effective essays will include personal examples and insights.

All work must be original and unpublished. In addition, judges will consider grammar, organization, syntax, and clarity of content and ideas.


In the documentary film American Creed, former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David M. Kennedy come together from remarkably different life experiences, backgrounds, and points of view to investigate the idea of a unifying American creed. At a time of sharp political and social tensions, their spirited inquiry frames the stories of a wide range of citizen-activists striving to realize their own visions of America’s promise across deep divides.

“In times like this, we need stories that remind us of the ideals that hold us together.” Pulitzer Prize-winning Historian, David Kennedy

A national identity is more than a list of diverse qualities and characteristics of the citizenry, it is also a collection of knowledge and values shared across the nation. In thinking about the stories and ideals that unite us as something larger than a collection of individuals, Facing History hopes to inspire young people to engage deeply in a conversation about who we are, and who we want to be. After watching one or more clips from American Creed, respond to the following in 500 words or less:

Tell a story that you believe shows the power of uniting people, building bridges, or orienting us to what we share and the common good?

Your story can be one from history or from your own community. You can choose to tell the story of an upstander (A person who speaks or acts in support of an individual or cause, particularly someone who intervenes on behalf of a person being attacked or bullied) or the story of a group that faced challenges and made a positive difference through their actions. Please tell us your story and explain what you hope people will learn from it.


The contest is open to students in the United States, Canada (excluding Quebec), and the United Kingdom. All participants must be 13 years or older. All participants must list valid contact information for their teacher as part of the contest submission form and receive parent/guardian permission to participate.

Read the complete official rules below. Please note that slightly different rules apply for participants in the UK.

Rules for U.S. and Canada Participants

Rules for U.K. Participants


Essay submissions are limited to 500 words and must be pasted into the form field on the submission page. Students are required to submit their contact information, as well as valid contact information for their teacher, and receive parent/guardian permission to participate.


Looking for ways to bring this contest to your classroom? Explore these ready-to-use lesson plans that will help engage your students with the prompt and get them ready to write by signing up at facinghistory.org/ideals.


This year’s contest and scholarship is presented in partnership with WGBH with support from Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation's Holocaust Remembrance Project and The Allstate Foundation.

To view the complete contest rules, please visit: facinghistory.org/ideals. Questions? Contact the Facing History team at [email protected].

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