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R-MA Common Reader Essay Contest 2017

Each year, the R-MA English Department announces a book known as the “Common Reader.” While summer reading is assigned by grade level, the Common Reader is for everyone and anyone, from sixth grade students to seniors, from students to faculty and staff. The selections have included bestsellers such as The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. The reading is optional; each year those who have chosen to read the book are invited to a luncheon or a dinner to discuss it.

Now an anonymous donor has stepped forward to add an additional component to the Common Reader program: an essay contest. Open only to R-MA students, the contest offers a first-place prize of $200, a second-place prize of $150, and a third-place prize for $100. Selected runners-up will receive Starbucks gift cards. 

This year’s selection is The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown, a thrilling and bestselling true story of sports, history, and character.  The Boys in the Boat is the R-MA Common Reader selection for 2017.

Contest Instructions
Students interested in participating in the contest must read the book by this fall. English Department Chairman Robert Davies encourages readers to pay attention to the elements of moral values and personal character that contribute to the extraordinary victories of the University of Washington crew team—all the way to the Berlin Olympics of 1936.

Readers should consider questions such as:

  • What are unique components of crew competition?
  • What obstacles did Joe Rantz and his crew team face?  
  • What were the contributions of the coach and boat maker?
  • How did historical events, including the Depression and the rise of Nazism, impact the characters?
  • What were the moral qualities that led to the team’s success?

Essay Prompt 
Write an essay of about 750 words on the values and character that led Joe Rantz and his crew team to sports dominance.  

Identify specific qualities of moral character and specific examples.  The best essays will discuss the arc of the team’s progress from the beginning of the story to the end with good command of details and examples.  Include one or two brief and pertinent quotations from the book with parenthetical citation.  

Submit the essay online to to by Monday, October 30, 2017:  

class id: 15246180    enrollment:  character
(Please use your account when your register online at Turnitin.)

Looking for more fantastic books to read? Check out our summer reading, our past Common Readers, and our Alpha Reader Book Club lists.

Check out these additional past Common Reader selections:

  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
  • The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
  • Justice by Dr. Michael Sandel
  • The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
And remember to do your summer reading!