2018 Essay Contest

Celebrating Student Voices

Facing History and Ourselves teaches us to think about the world in new ways, igniting conversations about how we can build societies free from racism, antisemitism, bullying, and hatred of all kinds. This contest will invite students to reflect on the stories and ideals that have helped shape the ways they think about their roles and responsibilities as engaged members of their communities.

Days Left to Enter
Awarded in Scholarships
Word Essay

Presented by Facing History in partnership with WGBH
Sponsored by Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation's Holocaust Remembrance Project and The Allstate Foundation
& With Support from Citizen Film and WTTW

This Year's Essay Prompt:

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.

To explore the examples from American Creed, the Holocaust, and the American Civil Rights Movement to help inspire your essay, sign up below.

When Is It Due?

The contest will be open for submissions March 1 through March 28, 2018. Finalists will be announced in April, and the public will be invited to vote for their favorite essays. Winners of the contest will be announced in May.

What are the Prizes?

  • Three $5,000 Upstander Scholarships will be awarded to students in 7th-12th grade and their teacher will also receive a $500 Classroom Award. At least one $5,000 Upstander Scholarship will be designated for a graduating senior.
  • Seven $1,000 Upstander Awards will be awarded to students in 7th-12th grade and their teacher will also receive a $250 Classroom Award.

Am I Eligible to Win?

  • All participants must be 13 years or older.
  • The contest is open to students in the U.S., UK, and Canada (excluding for Quebec).
  • Essays must be 500 words or fewer.


For more information, view a complete list of Rules and Eligibility Details:
See Rules for US and Canada Participants
See Rules for UK participants

Additional Educator Resources on American Creed

Facing History is working with amazing educational partners that have also developed classroom resources in coordination with American Creed. For more information, visit PBS Learning Media.

Have your students participate in the National Writing Project’s  Write The Future: American Creed. Students can use this activity as a “warm-up” for their essay submission. All student work will be published, and it’s one step closer to winning some of the $25,000 in scholarships that will be awarded!


Read Past Winning Essays
Award Winner
Claire draws personal connections to the story of upstander Fred Korematsu, an activist who brought a lawsuit against the US to object against the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Claire C.
Award Winner
Charlie details how he drew inspiration from politician Harvey Milk to come out to his peers.
Charlie K.
Award Winner
Eniola describes the impact her fellow students and community members have had on her journey to becoming an upstander.
Eniola A
Sign Up to Receive Powerful Lessons to Engage with the Contest
We encourage students and teachers to delve into the themes that inspired this year’s essay prompt before beginning to write. Explore examples from American Creed, the Holocaust, and the American Civil Rights Movement.

Sign Up To Access The Lessons

Presenting Partner


Sponsored By

Holland Knight Charitable Foundation Sponsor Facing History Student Essay Contest

Outreach Partners


For questions about the contest or to learn more about volunteering as a judge for this year's contest, please contact us at [email protected].


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