MIDDLEBURY, Vt — The Middlebury Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research and the Writing Program honored more than 50 up-and-coming student writers with the presentation of the 39th annual Paul W. Ward ’25 Prize in Writing at a ceremony in Twilight Hall Friday, October 7. The $500 cash prize recognizes outstanding essay writing by first-year students.
This year’s winners and honorees, all members of the Class of 2019, were nominated from many academic disciplines and were judged by a faculty committee for writing completed during the 2015–16 academic year.
“We are impressed at the range of interests and styles that all your writing represents,” said Writing Center Director and Senior Lecturer Mary Ellen Bertolini. “The judges read personal narratives, short stories, critical arguments, and research papers from many departments and across many divisions.”
That range is especially gratifying, said Bertolini, because “when Middlebury College committed itself to requiring writing in courses throughout the curriculum, we committed ourselves to an idea about the place of writing in a liberal arts education.”
The winning submission, “Mastery at Any Cost: The Dominance and Damning of Standard Oil,” was written by Caroline Snell, who read a short excerpt from her paper to the Twilight Hall audience. Snell wrote the essay for her first-year seminar, which was themed on power and petroleum in Asia from the 1890s through the present.
Assistant Professor of History Maggie Clinton, who taught the first-year seminar and recommended Snell for the award, offered a brief introduction. Clinton said the paper was exceptional by any measure, but especially since it was one of Snell’s first papers at Middlebury.
“Its prose so meticulously captured the nuances of historical change that I immediately asked her to share it with the rest of the class as an example of truly excellent writing,” Clinton said. “But it was also abundantly clear from that moment that her talents were going to take her extremely far. If she can write beautifully about kerosene, she can write beautifully about anything!”
Two students, Abbie Hinchman and Sarah Yang, were named runners-up, which comes with a $250 prize. Hinchman’s paper, “The Geography of Occupation: Examining the Use of Location in Out of It,” was nominated by Professor Yumna Siddiqui. Yang’s work, “Space Control in the Soviet Union,” was nominated by Professor Irina Feldman. Each of the runners-up also read excerpts from their papers.
Four students received honorable mention. Gemma Laurence was nominated by Professor Martha Woodruff for “The Morality of Happiness: A Comparison of Aristotelian and Kantian Ethics”; Sarah Rittgers was nominated by Professor Michael Sheridan for “Nationalism and the Collapse of the Soviet Union”; Leo Stevenson was nominated by Professor Marcia Collaer for “Natural Environments and Human Cognition”; and Kevin Zhang was nominated by Senior Associate in Science Instruction Vickie Backus for “Natural Selection for E. Coli Resistant to Triclosan and Its Effect on Developing Cross Resistance to Therapeutic Antibiotics.”
This year’s judges included Molly Anderson, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Food Studies; James Berg, visiting assistant professor of English and American literatures; and Jennifer Ortegren, assistant professor of religion.
“Middlebury prides itself on attracting and nurturing thoughtful, verbal young men and women,” said Bertolini. “You are looking at some of the best 19-year-old writers in the country!”
The prize is offered in memory of Paul W. Ward ’25, whose lifelong career as a journalist and diplomatic reporter brought him both the Pulitzer Prize and the French Legion of Honor. During his long career he emphasized the use of basic English as a writer’s most necessary tool. Precise and exact usage of words, exact meanings, and phrases expressed lucidly and gracefully seemed to him the most direct and understandable means of communicating with his readers.
Reporting by Stephen Diehl; Photos by Yeager Anderson ’13.5