The results of the 2014 Commonwealth Essay Competition were announced on the 9th September 2014, and we asked Vicki Wienand, Chair of both the Junior and Senior Judging Panels, to share her thoughts on the judging process and this year's top entries.
As I make my way to the aptly named Award House, The Royal Commonwealth Society’s headquarters in London, I muse on the task ahead. The 131st Commonwealth Essay Competition has attracted over 9,500 entries this year. Approximately 60 volunteer judges have spent hours reading and assessing their batch of essays and today it is up to the judging panels to decide on the winner and runner-up in each category. It is a great privilege to be involved with this unique competition which Cambridge University Press is pleased to sponsor and which, in the view of one entrant this year, ‘encourages young writers to be creative and to think’. The responsibility of chairing the panels weighs heavily as I ring the bell.
I meet the team at the RCS who have done such a great job of organising the competition and the experienced and enthusiastic judges of the Junior Section who are ready to go. We agree that the standard this year has again been very high and it is a difficult job to decide on our shortlist from the 29 top entries that we have in front of us. There are well argued essays, funny ones, descriptive ones, challenging ones, thoughtful ones - an enormous range. The shortlisted essays are discussed carefully. Whose voice is distinctive? How well is each crafted? Which essays do we keep coming back to? The judging guidelines are in front of us on the screen, so that they are always in mind. Eventually after a great deal of fruitful discussion the decision is made: Max de Bourcier wins, having won the panel over with his original, comic and succinct take on Being a Team Player. Leah Plante-Wiener impresses with her compelling and sophisticated analysis of the often hidden world of those who suffer from anxiety and is runner-up. Patrick Heath’s entry made us all reflect on jigsaws we had struggled through in the past and Alice Wills’s was the very best of the many that chose to reflect on World War I in this centenary year. The panel wanted them to know how highly their work was rated, so they were Highly Commended. Everyone feels drained by the process but exhilarated by coming into contact with so much exciting and accomplished writing from over 50 countries.
A moment to clear my head, and then it’s time to meet the judges on the Senior Panel and get started. It is no easier this time! The discussion goes back and forth until a shortlist is achieved. Raniya Hossain wins with her inspired and delicate story describing her view of the spirit of Pakistan. Selina Xu’s well-argued and sophisticated essay analysing the part competition plays in people’s daily lives earns her the runner-up position. What a lot of talent! Please do follow this link and read the winning essays for yourself.
My thanks to all the entrants who gave us so many interesting essays to read and to the judges who gave up their time to attend today. I look forward to welcoming the winners to Cambridge in November. Hopefully, we can celebrate Raniya and Max’s success with some punting on the River Cam.