USIP is proud to partner with the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) on the annual National High School Essay Contest for 2017-2018. The contest each year engages high school students in learning and writing about issues of peace and conflict, encouraging appreciation for diplomacy’s role in building partnerships that can advance peacebuilding and protect national security.
2018 National High School Essay Contest
Topic for AFSA’s 20th Anniversary High School Essay Contest
Why Diplomacy and Peacebuilding Matter
The United States has many tools to advance and defend its foreign policy and national security interests around the world—from diplomatic approaches pursued by members of the Foreign Service, to the range of options available to the U.S. military. In countries affected by or vulnerable to violent conflict, peacebuilding tools are important additions to the national security toolkit.
In such complex environments, cooperation across agencies and approaches is challenging, but it can also blend knowledge and skills in ways that strengthen the overall effort to establish a lasting peace. On the other hand, lack of coordination can lead to duplication of effort, inefficient use of limited resources and unintended consequences.
In a 1,000-1,250-word essay, identify two cases—one you deem successful and one you deem unsuccessful—where the U.S. pursued an integrated approach to build peace in a conflict-affected country. Analyze and compare these two cases, addressing the following questions:
- What relative strengths did members of the Foreign Service and military actors bring to the table? What peacebuilding tools were employed? Ultimately, what worked or did not work in each case?
- How was each situation relevant to U.S. national security interests?
- What lessons may be drawn from these experiences for the pursuit of U.S. foreign policy more broadly?
Length: Your essay should be at least 1,000 words but should not exceed 1,250 words (word count does not apply to the list of sources). The word count must be included on the document you submit.
Content and Judging: Submissions will be judged on the quality of analysis, quality of research, and form, style and mechanics. Successful entries will answer all aspects of the prompt and demonstrate an understanding of the Foreign Service. The top five essays from each region will advance to the final round of judging that will determine the winner, runner-up, and honorable mentions. All decisions of the judges are final.
Sources: Standards of content and style from current edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers will be expected for (1) documentation of sources in the text of your memo; (2) the format of the list of works cited; and (3) margins and indentation. A bibliography following the MLA Handbook must be included. Essays should use a variety of sources—academic journals, news magazines, newspapers, books, government documents, publications from research organizations. At least three of the cited materials should be primary sources (a document, speech, or other sort of evidence written, created or otherwise produced during the time under study). General encyclopedias, including Wikipedia, are not acceptable as sources. Essays citing general encyclopedias in notes or bibliography will be disqualified. Websites should not be the only source of information for your essay; when you do use online sources they must be properly cited.
- Fill out the registration form. All fields on the online form are required, including uploading a Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx) file of your original work with a title, in English which should include a comprehensive list of sources consulted. Entries must be typed, double-spaced, in 12-point Times New Roman or an equivalent font with a one-inch margin on all sides of the page.
- Teacher or Sponsor: Student registration forms must have a teacher or sponsor name. That person may review the submitted essay and act as the key contact between participants and AFSA. It is to the student’s advantage to have a coordinator review the essay to make sure it is complete, contains all the necessary forms, is free from typographical and grammatical errors, and addresses the topic.
- Do not place your last name or your school's name on any of the pages of the essay. Only the registration form should include this information.
- Faxed submissions will not be accepted.
- Your essay will be disqualified if it does not meet the requirements or is submitted after the submission date of 11:59 p.m. EDT on March 15, 2018.
Eligibility: Students whose parents are not in the Foreign Service are eligible to participate if they are in grades nine through twelve in any of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. territories, or if they are U.S. citizens attending high school overseas. Students may be attending a public, private, or parochial school. Entries from home-schooled students are also accepted. Previous first-place winners and immediate relatives of directors or staff of the AFSA, the U.S. Institute of Peace, Semester at Sea and National Student Leadership Conference are not eligible to participate. Previous honorable mention designees are eligible to enter.
Prizes: $2,500 to the writer of the winning essay, in addition to an all-expense paid trip to the nation’s capital from anywhere in the U.S. for the winner and his or her parents, and an all-expense paid educational voyage courtesy of Semester at Sea. Runner-up receives $1,250 and a full tuition to attend a summer session of National Student Leadership Conference’s International Diplomacy program.
Your essay will become the property of the American Foreign Service Association once it is submitted, and will not be returned.
Thank you for your essay submission and good luck!
Nicholas Deparle, winner of the 2017 AFSA National High School Essay Contest, comes from Sidwell Friends School in Washington DC. A rising senior at the time, Mr. Deparle covers the Internally Displaced Persons crisis in Iraq and potential ideas to help resolve the issue. Read his winning essay here. Mr. Manuel Feigl, a graduate of Brashier Middle College Charter High School in Simpsonville, SC took second place.
This year there were twenty honorable mentions: Mohammed Abuelem ( Little Rock, Ark.), Lucas Aguayo-Garber (Worcester, Mass.), Rahul Ajmera (East Williston, N.Y.), Taylor Gregory (Lolo, Mont.), Rachel Hildebrand (Sunnyvale, Calif.), Ryan Hulbert (Midland Park, N.J.), India Kirssin (Mason, Ohio), Vaibhav Mangipudy (Plainsboro, N.J.), William Marsh (Pittsburgh, Penn.), Zahra Nasser (Chicago, Ill.), Elizabeth Nemec (Milford, N.J.), David Oks (Ardsley, N.Y.), Max Pumilia (Greenwood Village, Colo.), Nikhil Ramaswamy (Plano, Texas), Aditya Sivakumar (Beaverton, Ore.), Donovan Stuard (Bethlehem, Penn.), Rachel Tanczos (Danielsville, Penn.), Isabel Ting (San Ramon, Calif.), Kimberley Tran (Clayton, Mo.), and Chenwei Wang (Walnut, Calif.).
2017 Essay Contest Topic
According to the United Nations, 65 million people worldwide have left their homes to seek safety elsewhere due to violence, conflict, persecution, or human rights violations. The majority of these people are refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Imagine you are a member of the U.S. Foreign Service —– a diplomat working to promote peace, support prosperity, and protect American citizens while advancing the interests of the United States abroad – and are now assigned to the U.S. embassy in one of these four countries.
(Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs)
(Bureau of African Affairs)
(Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs)
(Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs)
Your task is to provide recommendations to address the refugee/IDP crisis facing the country in which you are now posted. Using the resources available to you as a member of the Foreign Service, write a memo to your Ambassador outlining how the United States might help address the current unprecedented levels of displacement. You may choose to address issues related to the causes of refugee crisis, or to focus on the humanitarian crisis in your host country.
A qualifying memo will be 1,000-1,250 words and will answer the following questions:
- How does the crisis challenge U.S. interests in the country you are posted and more broadly?
- Specifically outline the steps you propose the U.S. should take to tackle the roots or the consequences of the crisis, and explain how it would help solve the issue or issues you are examining. How will your efforts help build peace or enhance stability?
- How do you propose, from your embassy/post of assignment, to foster U.S. government interagency cooperation and cooperation with the host-country government to address these issues? Among U.S. government agencies, consider U.S. Agency for International Development, the Foreign Commercial Service and the U.S. Institute of Peace.
TO: Ambassador ______________________
FROM: Only use your first name here
RE: Think of this as your title, make sure to include the country you are writing about
Here you want to lay out the problem, define criteria by which you will be deciding the best steps the U.S. could take, and include a short sentence or two on your final recommendation. Embassy leadership is very busy and reads many memos a day —– they should be able to get the general ““gist”” of your ideas by reading this section.
This section should provide any background information about the crisis or conflict relevant to your proposed policy. Here, you should mention why the issue is important to U.S. interests, especially peace and security.
This is where you outline your proposed policy. Be specific in describing how the U.S. might address this issue and how these steps can contribute to peace and security. Include which organizations you propose partnering with and why.
This is where you write your final recommendations for embassy leadership. Think of this as a closing paragraph.
Companion Guide for the 2017 National High School Essay Contest
It is no easy task to jump into the role of a diplomat, especially when confronted by such an urgent crisis. USIP, in consultation with AFSA, developed a guide to provide a basic introduction to the topic and some additional context that can assist you in answering the question, while still challenging you to develop your own unique response. As such, this guide should be used as a starting point to your own research and as you ultimately prepare a compelling memo outlining recommendations the U.S. government should follow to respond to the refugee and IDP crisis.
In the guide you will find: insights into the role of the Foreign Service; country, organization, and key-term briefs to provide a foundational understanding; and a list of other useful resources. Download the Companion Guide for the 2017 National High School Essay Contest (.pdf).
USIP first partnered with AFSA for the 2016 contest and was pleased to welcome winner Dylan Borne to Washington in August. His paper describes his role as an economic officer in the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. He writes about promoting education for girls in Afghanistan through on-line courses and dispersal of laptops. Read his winning essay (.pdf).