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2017-2018 High School Essay Contest

It is our pleasure to announce the annual Garaventa Center Catholic high school essay contest.

The Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture at the University of Portland exists to explore and deploy the fruits of faith, reason and imagination that constitute the Catholic intellectual tradition. We are especially committed to awakening and celebrating those gifts in young people, hence this annual essay contest, in which participants are encouraged to integrate faith, reason and the intellectual craft of writing a personal essay (i.e. this is not a fiction-writing contest).

The prompt for the 2017-2018 contest is: Notes to My 12-Year-Old Self

Click here to download a flyer with additional contest details.

Writers may approach this topic in any number of ways. For instance, submissions might be in the form of a letter or memo. The most successful personal essays convey something true and provide readers with a bit of emotional “oomph.” In the words of celebrated author Brian Doyle, one of the contest’s judges for many years before his untimely passing last year: “all refreshing honesty and humor… most welcome.”

English teachers, take note: coaching students through this process contributes evidence of mastery of a number of Common Core Literacy Standards, beginning with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1, 12.2 and 12.3.

The essay contest is open to all current juniors in a Catholic high school in Alaska, Hawai’i, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington. A committee at the University will read all entries to select two Garaventa Awards ($500 cash prize each) and three honorable mentions ($250 cash prize each). The authors of all five winning essays and their families will be invited to a ceremony held during a spring Admissions Visitation Day celebration to receive their awards and checks at a luncheon in their honor. We also post the top two essays as podcasts, read by professional actors on iTunes and our website.

All submissions must be electronic. Please send your school’s four top essays as Word (not pdf) attachments to by Friday, February 16, 2018. If you have any questions, please contact our program assistant Sarah Nuxoll at 503.943.7702 or

Check out our Archives for links to last year's winning essays.