Essay Contest

2022 Summer Reading Essay Contest

Two winners will receive one $500 Scholarship each
(one Rutherford County high school student and one MTSU incoming freshman or transfer)


All first year MTSU students (freshman and transfer) are eligible to submit essays.  Deadline August 1, 2022. Essays will be read and evaluated by members of the MTSU faculty and staff.

The 2022 Campus Read presents themes, you too will experience moments in your college career that might be challenging, emotional, and even monumental. As you step on campus, you will meet new people, have new responsibilities, and encounter a new way of life. You will go through a period of adjustment, having to balance your classes, studies, work time, and social life. Respond to one of the below essay prompts using original writing created by you... how did this book make you question your fate.. how did you get here and where are you going?


Select one or more of the following essay prompts:
For all these questions, use quotations from the text to support your interpretation.

  1. The author, Andrew, says that his motivation for embarking on this adventure is to listen to the stories of the people he encounters along the way—that he is “walking to listen.”  Do you think that is his true motivation?  Do you think anything else is motivating him to walk across America?
  2. Andrew brought three books along with him:  Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, and The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.  If you were going to choose three books to have with you as your only reading for eleven months, which books would you choose?
  3. When Andrew got to Montgomery, he met Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice initiative.  (Stevenson was our summer reading author for freshmen who started MTSU in fall, 2018.  We read his book Just Mercy, which was later made into a movie.)  Andrew spoke with Bryan about his struggle with knowing how to respond when people expressed racist or prejudiced views to him.  Andrew wondered what he should say, and was embarrassed that he sometimes said nothing.  Bryan responded by saying “You’re trying to become a witness to the reality of these communities, and that means you have to be open to hearing what people have to say.  So I say receive all that.”  But Bryan also reminded him that there is no reconciliation until we tell the truth about the trauma of our past.  Do you agree with Bryan’s thoughts?  What would you have done if you were Andrew, encountering so many racist comments?
  4. The author makes a literary choice to include the language of the people he speaks with, using their exact words.  That means that the book includes many words that we would not condone if used here on our campus or in our classrooms—especially the N-word.  How did you feel about Andrew’s choice to include those words verbatim, instead of using a substitution for very offensive words?  How would you have handled the choice, as an author?
  5. One of the hardest parts of being a new student is creating and becoming a part of a new community.  It can be challenging to meet new people, make new friends, find new ways to belong.  Andrew had to meet new people every day, if for no other reason than to make sure he had a place to sleep at night.  How did Andrew overcome his fear of talking to strangers?  How will you overcome your own fears about the same thing?
  6. It’s natural to put ourselves into Andrew’s shoes, and wonder how we would have managed the eleven months on the road.  But can you also put yourself into the shoes of the people he met along the way?  Were you surprised that so many people took Andrew into their homes? What would your reaction be if a young man knocked on your door and asked if he could pitch his tent in your yard?  Would you be afraid, or would you welcome him? 
  7. Andrew’s relationships with his mother and father were discussed throughout the book, and there were some obvious and some subtle changes over the eleven months of his walk.  How do you see your relationships with your parents or other significant adults in your life changing as you begin your college experience?
  8. As Andrew begins to walk the last leg of his trudge through Death Valley, a woman shouts to him, “I hope you find what you’re looking for.”  He answers, “I already did.”  What did Andrew find over the course of his months of walking?

Be brief: Your essay should be no more than 1000 words. That’s about six minutes when read aloud at your natural pace.

Be personal: Write in words and phrases that are comfortable for you to speak. We recommend you read your essay aloud to yourself several times. Each time edit it until you find the words and tone that truly echo your ideas.

Additional Guidelines

Essay Length: maximum of 1000 words
Formatting: double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12 pt. font, Times New Roman font
Personal Information:

Cover Page: All entries must have a cover sheet that includes your name, essay title.

  • MTSU Students must include: student M number, MTSU email and phone number.
  • RUCO students should include: high school, senior English teacher, email and phone.

Essay: As the judging is anonymous, do not include your name anywhere in your essay. Only include your name on the cover page. 

Originality: Your submission must be an entirely original piece of writing.

Deadline: All entries must be submitted by August 1, 2022 to with "Walking to Listen" in the subject line.

Submission Review & Winner Selection

Submissions will be reviewed by faculty and staff judges. Two student winners will be selected and receive a $500 scholarship.  The winners will be notified and each award will be processed through the Financial Aid Office per MTSU policy.