Hello there! Are you a young person, looking to join The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition? Or are you an adult, looking in curiously to see if you would like to be a Competition Judge? If you are any of these, then you’ve come to the right place. Let me as a Senior Panel Judge tell you a little about the Essay Competition and why it has a special place in my heart.

As an Educator, one of my pet peeves is the overuse of the word ‘potential’, often used in phrases like ‘fulfilling your fullest potential’. The term ‘potential’ is bandied around rather carelessly, without consideration for its semantic and philosophical complications. Perhaps the most pernicious effect of the term’s misuse, I believe, is that it nurtures a sense that young people are a generation ‘in waiting’, whose time will only come later, when their ‘potential’ has been properly developed. This notion suggests that young people need to wait to have an impact on the world, whilst we adults collectively ‘educate’ them in the meantime.

While it is not inaccurate to say that youths have much to learn, this does not mean that they do not have a legitimate role in having a voice and making the world a better place, not just in the future, but in the present, the Now. All over the world, people under the age of 18 constantly show us adults up with their intelligence, initiative and verve. The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition is one such platform where that can happen.

The Competition is a platform that recognises the vital role that youth play in addressing the international events that are shaping our world. Participants are tasked to write an insightful, lucid response to topics that are set according to the committee’s sense of what is happening in the world. The Competition is remarkably open in its format, accepting entries that come in many forms, be they narratives, poetry or discursive essays.

I am an English teacher. As such, I believe strongly in the power of words, whether in the form of a story, poem or expository essay. Writing is both Art and Science, methodically weaving together words to influence readers, often not only intellectually, but emotionally too. While language is always at risk of being misused and corrupted, as argued by George Orwell in his essay Politics and the English Language, I also believe in the importance of language to do good, especially in the fractured times that we live in, plagued by political unrest, growing economic equality and extremism of all kinds. I’d like to believe that sometimes, I can be an optimist.

Words, I believe, can unite us and shape us positively. This was ably demonstrated by Inessa Rajah, who at the age of 17 won the Senior Award of the Competition in 2016, when I was a member of the Final Panel.  Her masterful story is a powerful appeal to our common humanity, stirring the reader with an optimism that cultural and socio-economic barriers can be overcome so that we can form real, humanising relationships with those who are foreign to us.

In my brief time as a Judge, I’ve read many entries like Inessa’s or the 2016 runner-up, Esther Mungalaba’s, that have challenged and inspired me.  As the American author Nathaniel Hawthorne once observed, ‘In youth, men are apt to write more wisely than they know or feel’. I believe strongly in this, that there are many youth like Inessa and Esther who have the wisdom and clarity of expression to touch hearts and change lives through their writing. Many perhaps just do not realise it and are reluctant to try.

As such, I would like to echo my fellow panellist Sidra Zulfiqar’s call for more participants to actively participate in this competition. As she says, it’s not about winning, but about challenging yourself and honing your skill as a writer, developing your unique voice. That in itself is reward enough.


Feeling inspired? The Queen's Commonwealth Essay Competition 2017 closes on Monday, 1 May 2017 at midnight GMT

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Royal Commonwealth Society.