Illustration by Maggie McManus.

Illustration by Maggie McManus.

One hundred fifty-two UC Santa Cruz and local high-school students recently put their pens to paper to compete for first, second and third-place cash prizes as part of McHenry Library’s annual essay contest. 

The competition, now in its 42nd year, was sponsored by the Friends of the McHenry Library, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the welfare and growth of UCSC’s main library.

According to the contest rules, entrants were to “imagine a collection of books and other written or recorded sources on a subject of global importance,” and write up to 1,500 words describing the collection and its impact.           

This year’s topic was chosen by Astrid von Soosten, director of library development, and Letitia Bennett, associate director of library development. 

Bennett said they chose the topic after watching Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration. 

“We both felt more hopeful and wanted to encourage our students to think more globally,” Bennett said. “What’s dumped in the ocean in Hawaii ends up here on the mainland. The air quality in China affects the air quality here in California … We have also realized recently that economic activity is not isolated by any means.”

The top three finalists in the college category are third-year Jesse Wilkie for her essay “Forget the Industrial Revolution,” fourth yearSean Dudas for “Achieving a Multicultural Global Perspective,” and second-year Celeste Noche for “The Importance of Understanding.” 

The finalists were chosen on the basis of which contestants best articulated the intricacies of today’s globalized world and the problems facing it. 

Three judges worked together to select the strongest essays before announcing Wilkie, Dudas and Noche as the finalists on April 15. The first, second and third-place assignments will be announced today, April 23, at 5 p.m. at McHenry Library.

At its inception in 1967, the contest was intended as a way of honoring students for extensive book collections in their specific areas of interest. 

Prize money for the contest winners is sponsored in part by funds donated by Ethel Curtis, a longtime donor and one of the friends of the UCSC library. Curtis started the fund in 1994 in memory of her late niece, who worked at the library.

The contest is divided into three sections with one level for ninth and 10th-graders, one for 11th and 12th-graders and one for college students. 

Reference librarian Ken Lyons was a judge for the group of high-school students and said he was impressed by the scope of topics and ideas in the essays he read.

“Some people wrote about [the] guitar and guitar history,” Lyons said. “If there was one general theme that students wrote about, I would say it was about music.” 

Each writer in the college section of the contest had the additional requirement of submitting with each essay an annotated bibliography with at least 25 sources. 

Wilkie, a College Ten student, said that with globalization, “the world is becoming a lot smaller, and we have to work together. Whether it’s poverty or global warming or disease, it affects everyone in the long run because we’re all connected. It’s important to understand the global community now. We’re global citizens.”

Noche echoed the importance of a more sympathetic global community. 

“I don’t think that any issue that people think is important can be solved without understanding,” Noche said. “No one is going to empathize with world hunger if they don’t understand what’s going [on] and they don’t put themselves in that position. They’re not going to help because it’s not important to them.”

Bennett expressed gratitude to the Santa Cruz community for showing so much support for the contest. Many donors — including Capitola Book Café, the Literary Guillotine, Bookworks, Logos Books and Records, Borders and Bookshop Santa Cruz — provided gift cards to the high schools of the winning students.

Bennett says she is happy to be in an academic setting working with the students she loves.

 “Students offer a fresher approach to problems and may be more likely to bring solutions,” Bennett said. “Students do have the opportunity to think about things differently.”