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. In these essays, readers will notice the creative ways in which the authors choose to incorporate their evidence, analysis, and insights. Students looking to learn how to enhance their essays with anecdotes and reflections and support their analyses coherently will benefit from reading these engaging pieces of work.
This year’s FSEM essay prize winners offer a variety of research questions and arguments regarding the politics and ethics of representation; from historical to social to aesthetic, these essays each in turn engage some of our most pressing questions today, offering nuanced and carefully argued positions across the disciplines.
In “Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: A Revolutionary(?) Musical,” Kehley Coleman seamlessly navigates a number of sources, popular and academic, to form a strong counterargument to the prevailing conception that the hit musical Hamilton is a revolutionary depiction of American history. Indeed, Coleman shows us, the musical actually replicates common historical tropes while ignoring evidence that would complicate its narrative of progress.
Tatiana Pavlides’s essay “Time to Get out of the Margins” similarly threads together a number of social scientific sources to form a compelling literature review arguing for the necessity of positive representation. Blending research into personal narratives of LGBTQ+ individuals with scholarly, peer-reviewed studies on the cognitive and health effects of positive representation, Pavlides skillfully argues for a more nuanced approach to our contemporary debates regarding representation.
Similarly, Jessica Bumgarner’s essay “Space for LGBTQ+ Children in Jessica Love’s Julián is a Mermaid” offers a more local analysis of the effects of representation by carefully close reading the text and images of an LGBTQ+ children’s book. Bumgarner offers persuasive interpretations of the book’s arguments and aesthetics to add texture and contour to the debates surrounding positive representations of the LGBTQ+ community.
2017-2018 FSEM Essay Prize Winners
In the first winning essay “Regretting Silence”, Katherine Jordan shares an original poem written in response to a prompt (silence and regret). She then reflects about her process in writing the poem and analyzes the model piece that inspired hers. Her creative writing and analytical skills make this an easy and engaging read.
Hae Won Lee similarly engages her readers by shedding light on racial injustice in her social critique,“Songs of Freedom? The National Anthem and Black Oppression.” She skillfully lays out some of the nation’s most gripping moments, such as when professional NFL player Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem in a 2016 NFL game. Lee’s fluid style and choice of content make the piece insightful and leave the readers in deep reflection.
In the third winning essay,“False Memory: Silence’s Work in The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World,”Meghan Parker analyzes Gabriel García Márquez’s short story and discusses the way in which the characters respond to a man’s death. Parker’s thorough explanation of the story and attention to detail help outline the relationship between death and silence and emphasize many key moments in the story. She concludes her close reading by sharing insightful points about human nature, our response to death and to silence, and what it reveals about us.
“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.
Written for FSSY 135: The Rest is Silence; Sarah Gridley (Seminar Leader)
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
Both prize winners this year were asked to select a certain topic and present an argument, as well as support their argument with research and analysis. In “Unethical Behavior in the Wounded Warrior Project,” student Claire Howard details the unethical behavior of a charity organization meant to support U.S. veterans. Readers will find this essay to be well-organized; every paragraph is well-structured and transitions smoothly to the next. In many parts of the essay, she offers insightful analysis of how this example of a charitable organization affects our view of charity. Her sophisticated writing style reads like a story.
In Yiyang Wang’s essay, readers learn about the book “An Unquiet Mind” and its protagonist Kay Redfield Jamison, a psychiatrist diagnosed with manic depression. Wang demonstrates the many ways that Jamison uses personal anecdotes to spark empathy in her readers for those with mental health issues. Wang’s well-organized writing and thoughtful selection of excerpts from Jamison’s book make this an engaging read. Both of these essays are prime examples of writing that is organized, well-researched, and thoroughly analyzed. Not only do the writers choose provocative topics, their presentation of those topics easily engages and persuades readers.
“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.
“Two Sides of a Coin – Analysis of An Unquiet Mind” by 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?”
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.