Winners of the University of Limerick Regional Writing Centre Secondary School Essay-writing Competition are selected on the basis that the winners make a good case for the positions they adopt on contentious issues that are embedded in the writing prompt that we provide. The submitted essays undergo a rigorous selection process, where each essay is assessed against a set of pre-defined criteria. The adjudication process intensifies as the top 10 to 15 essays emerge, slowing considerably as arguments are put forward regarding the essays worthy of winning one of the four prizes on offer. Selecting the winning essays is not simple, as they are all good essays with qualities that stand out. However, the winning essays are those that have a range of qualities that work effectively to grab the reader’s attention and build the most compelling and convincing arguments.
The following are a summary of some of the qualities we look for when making our decision:
The writer has thought deeply about the topic and has often demonstrated insightfulness, approaching the problem from a unique viewpoint.
The argument is clearly expressed through a coherent, logical progression of ideas that lead to and justify a well-reasoned conclusion.
The argument stays on the issues that are raised by the prompt to which the writer is responding.
Material that is not relevant to the case is absent or at least signalled as interesting, but not pertinent.
Repetition is used strategically for rhetorical effect, otherwise avoided.
The writer knows how to combine all that they know about the topic, about language and about themselves and their own values in order to make appeals for their position to a general audience.
The writer demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of grammar, sentence construction and mechanics (spelling, capitalisation and punctuation).
In the 2014/15 essay-writing competition, students were invited to take a decisive stance on the following prompt with reference to the role young people play in Irish society:
‘Despite her youth, Malala Yousafzai has already fought for several years for the right of girls to education, and has shown by example that children and young people, too, can contribute to improving their own situations.’ Nobel Committee
The Writing Centre was delighted to receive 260 essays from around the country. The winning essays stood out in terms of the proficiency of writing skills and the creativity the writers used in building a clear, coherent and convincingly argued case in support of the stance they took in response to the essay prompt.
A common theme that ran through many essays this year was our student writers’ tangible despair of the negative image that society and the media too often ascribe to the youth as exemplified in this quote from our Connaught winner, Sarah Burke:
“Many young people feel they are portrayed unfairly in newspapers, radio and television, with too much emphasis on the wrongdoings of a small minority. They feel there is notenough coverage of the good things they do and not enough representation of their viewpoints.When was the last time you saw a headline like: “Young Student Volunteers for Special Olympics”?”
To rebut the negative image of young people, our writers cited many examples of young Irish role models who have displayed courage, creativity and innovation in impacting those around them in a positive way, from small everyday acts of kindness to campaigns that received national and international attention
“By acknowledging the tremendous tasks and kind hearts of young people, our future generation will feel more encouraged to speak their own opinions as well as getting involved in voluntary organisations and charity work” Kerry O’Sullivan, Munster winner
There was also a sense pervading the essays that society needs to provide more opportunities to give a voice to young people:
“Without a voice, the potential of young people is curtailed. Without belief in our young people’s talents, their true potential will be exploited abroad rather than at home, and without our young people, there can only be a future of silence”. Kerry O’Sullivan
The idealism that is the hallmark of youth and the confidence some young people have in their ability to be a positive tour de force was also evident in the essays as exemplified in the following statement from our Ulster winner, Rebecca Hanratty;
”If the young people of Ireland act now, perhaps we can undo the damage of our parents’ generations, turn back time, and give new life to that long dead Tiger.”
Our overall winner, Fergus McCormack, immediately grabbed the readers’ attention in the opening paragraph of his essay where he presents an image of apathetic youth who “Oftentimes they are more inclined to spend their time loitering in their own filth, fixated on a computer screen amidst mouldy crumbs of Doritos rather than productively contributing to society “
Fergus goes on from there to fervently articulate a convincing, logical case against this perception of young people arguing that society should harness the idealism of youth to create, to question, to say ‘why not’ to seemingly intractable problems. The willingness of the young to get involved in charitable work, mentoring and innovation is clearly delineated and a call made to allow the young a voice in deciding the future of their nation. The essay concludes eloquently by reminding the reader that just as;
“Malala Yousafzai, through her words and deeds is an embodiment of the beacon of light cast by youth, guiding society into unknown horizons. It should be abundantly clear at this point that the reality of Irish young people is a far cry from the ignominious character comically portrayed in the opening lines of this essay. They are virtuous caring people with a contribution to make and a voice worth listening to. They carry the hopes of a nation, and deservedly so.”
National/Leinster Provincial Winner: Fergus McCormack of Belvedere College, Dublin
Connaught Provincial Winner: Sarah Burke of Jesus and Mary Secondary School, Crossmolina, Co Mayo
Munster Provincial Winner: Kerry O’Sullivan of Coláiste na Sceilge, Cahersiveen, Co Kerry
Ulster Provincial Winner: Rebecca Hanratty of Castleblayney College, Castleblayney, Co Monaghan