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FSEM Essay Prize

The SAGES First Seminar Essay Awards highlight the best student writing produced in SAGES First Seminars each Fall.  The essays recognized here were selected from those nominated by SAGES faculty for this award in academic year 2017-2018.  Student essayists receive a cash award and are recognized at the Spring Writing Program Awards.

We encourage instructors to read and share these essays with student writers as models for effective writing in SAGES First Seminars.


“Regretting Silence” by Katherine Jordan

Written for FSSY 135: The Rest is Silence; Sarah Gridley (Seminar Leader)

Assignment Description: In this paper, students took on these tasks: 1) choose a model poem from a packet of poems that engage silence— explicitly, formally, etc. 2) derive a prompt from the model 3) write an original poem in response to this prompt 4) write a process note 5) analyze the model poem by answering the question—What work is silence doing in this poem?—and incorporating a quote from our “Poets on Silence” reading. Students presented paper 2 in this order: original poem; process note; model poem; prompt; model analysis. How to sequence the tasks was the puzzle of the assignment.

Nomination by Prof. Gridley: Via Jane Hirshfield’s model, Katie grasped and performed two of poetry’s essential tasks: 1) rendering the abstract concrete so that a reader might inhabit and participate in the conceptual world of the speaker 2) finding voice in the interplay of language and silence. Her analysis of the work silence is doing in Hirshfield’s poem is richly attentive to the poet’s formal moves and the tension they build into the poem. I like her use of Lorde’s quote, the idea that silence can retroactively “pain” a person; I see her very honestly and artfully enacting this recognition in her own poem.



“Songs of Freedom? The National Anthem and Black Oppression” by Hae Weon Lee

Written for FSSY 185F: Religious Belief in Secular Society; Scott Dill (Seminar Leader)

Assignment Description: The assignment was a 7-8 page research paper where the amount of research, or fidelity to citation apparatuses, was not nearly as important as thoughtful argumentation and sensitive appreciation of different views.

Nomination by Dr. Dill:  Hae Weon tackled some of the core questions in our course by connecting a present tense current event with the bigger social contexts surrounding it. Her style of writing was clear and concise, easy to read, and demonstrated a superior ability to connect her various points together through seamless transitions and elegant prose. From paragraph to paragraph, from sentence to sentence, the reader never loses the thread of her argument and understands how her evidence supports her claims and her thesis explains a pressing problem that contemporary US society must address.



“False Memory: Silence’s Work in ‘The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World’” by Meghan Parker

Written for FSSY 135: The Rest is Silence; Sarah Gridley (Seminar Leader)

Assignment Description:

Close Reading of Silence/Short Fiction: What work is silence doing in your chosen story?

  • Include 3-5 quotations from the story. The quotes should merit close attention and analysis. Your task is to “unpack” their significance in relation to your thesis. Plot summary is acceptable only insofar as it contextualizes close readings of specific passages.
  • Include 2-3 quotations from silence theorizers: Picard (The World of Silence); Glenn (Unspoken: a Rhetoric of Silence); Ross (Silence: a User’s Guide). These quotations should serve as lenses for your analysis—helping you to refine your own thinking about how silence operates in the story.

Nomination by Prof. Gridley: Megan considers the work silence is doing in this story aesthetically and ontologically. She addresses the paradoxical nature of silence, the ground it offers imagination, and the limit it presents to human life and memory. She performs close reading and theoretical synthesis. She cites One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (not an assigned text) as analog to Marquez’ fictional treatment of invention. I like that her assessment of invention is skeptical and sympathetic: fictionalized memory might be “false” (as she suggests in her title), but it is an understandable response to extinction, a “silencing” power ample enough to renew community.


2016-2017 FSEM Essay Prize Winners

“Unethical Behavior in the Wounded Warrior Project” by Claire Howard

Written for FSSO 119: Philanthropy in America; Barbara Burgess-Van Aken (Seminar Leader)

Assignment Description: The prompt for this essay was to examine and make an argument about a controversy or ethical dilemma that relates to philanthropy. Examples of issues to discuss include scandals in the nonprofit world, policies related to honoring the intentions of donors, accepting gifts with strings attached, or taking gifts from criminals.

“Unethical Behavior in the Wounded Warrior Project” (MLA 8 Formatted)

“Unethical Behavior in the Wounded Warrior Project” (APA Formatted)


“Two Sides of a Coin – Analysis of An Unquiet Mindby Yiyang Wang

Written for FSCC 100: Social Meanings of Health; Mary Assad (Seminar Leader)

Assignment Description: This mid-semester analysis essay asked students to choose a personal illness narrative we had discussed in class and make an argument about the narrative’s rhetorical strategies. The prompt stated, “In your essay, begin by identifying the target audience and the changes the writer seeks to enact in the audience’s beliefs or behaviors. Then, explore how the writer attempts to persuade this audience. What strategies does he/she use to make the memoir interesting, relevant, engaging, meaningful, or memorable? Conclude by evaluating the narrative’s effectiveness: do you think it would successfully persuade the target audience? Why or why not?”

“Two Sides of a Coin: Analysis of An Unquiet Mind” (MLA 8 Formatted)

“Two Sides of a Coin: Analysis of An Unquiet Mind” (APA Formatted)


In previous years, SAGES and the Writing Program published the prize-winning essays in booklets. You can find previous SAGES First Seminar Essay Award recipients here in these archives.

FSEM Essay Prize Booklet (2015-2016)

FSEM Essay Prize Booklet (2014-2015)

FSEM Essay Prize Booklet (2013-2014)

FSEM Essay Prize Booklet (2012-2013)

FSEM Essay Prize Booklet (2011-2012)

Page last modified: April 19, 2018