The John Locke Global Essay Competition, which took place in September, invited finalists to Oxford University to participate in an academic conference with awards dinners. Stevenson sophomore Henry P. sat down with us to discuss his acceptance letter to the contest, his motivations, and what is next for him and his persuasive writing.
Question: How did you find out about this prestigious essay-writing contest?
Henry P.: I actually participated in the contest in eighth grade at my previous school. I saw that a few of my friends did it. I looked at the prompts, and it really intrigued me, so I gave it a shot. I didn’t make it to the finals last year, but it made sense to me because I was still in middle school, and I was involved in a high school competition.
This year, I did it again because I was looking at the prompts, and I came across this “Pax Sinica” prompt (Latin for Chinese Peace), and it was really interesting to me because I’m from Korea, and China has a giant influence on our region and the world. You really feel it as a Korean; China is right there and such a close neighbor, and yet we have very distinct cultures and countries. I realized I have a lot to say about this, because a lot of things have happened over the past few years in the region, and I wanted to write about it, so that’s how I decided to participate this year.
Q: Were you given the topic, or were there different prompts to choose from?
HP: There are a bunch of subjects you can choose from, like philosophy, economics, and politics; those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head. And each subject has three sub-topics. I chose politics, and the requirement is to write an essay with a 2,000-word limit.
Q: Tell us about your acceptance letter and your journey to Oxford. When did you go?
HP: I received an email in early August from Oxford University that I was one of the finalists for the John Locke Global Essay Competition, with an invitation to come to Oxford. My parents were pretty excited about this, but it was also in the middle of the school year for me and my brother. My parents couldn’t come with me, so they sent me with an acquaintance who could also be a chaperone.
At the opening ceremony, there was a speech by an Oxford professor, and the next day there were lectures you could sign up for based on the subject you wrote about in your essay. I met a political science professor there who was fascinating and very knowledgeable.
Q: Did they declare a winner?
HP: They did. Unfortunately, I did not make it into the winning group. Only the top five percent of submissions won awards, but there were over 20,000 submissions so it was very competitive. I was happy to have been selected at all.
Q: Who inspired your writing?
HP: I had an eighth-grade teacher who really helped me. Ms. Aguirre also motivated me to write last year, and I just accumulated a deeper interest over the last two to three years to really write.
Q: What stood out to you about your visit?
HP: The campus. The campus is an actual town, and, as you know, it’s one of the oldest colleges in the world, so everything just feels, not just antique, but ancient because its roots go back so many centuries.
Q: Do you think you’ll enter the contest again this year?
HP: I think I’ll give it one more shot. I have a deeper understanding of how to write for the contest. Now with additional knowledge and experience, I think if I try one more time, I can do better. So yes! I’m looking forward to doing it again next year.
Q: Have you applied what you’ve learned writing at Stevenson to your work for the contest, and vice versa?
HP: My history and English classes are giving me solid foundational skills in persuasive writing. Right now I have an English teacher, Dr. (Annika) Patteneude, who is helping my writing a lot. She is an amazing teacher. I am also in the Yearbook club, which will be giving me many opportunities to write this year.