Capturing creativity

Verity Sharp

The Commonwealth Essay Competition remains an important outlet as it celebrates a record year

As the Commonwealth Essay Competition celebrates its 130th anniversary, it shows no sign of slowing down; organisers received more than 11,000 entries this year – a record for the competition. 

Run by the Royal Commonwealth Society since 1883, the contest is an annual staple in many teachers’, schools’ and young writers’ diaries. For the 2013 contest, more than 830 schools across 55 Commonwealth countries and territories participated. 

Mike Lake, director of the Royal Commonwealth Society, says: “Having received a record number of entries this year, it is fantastic to see so many talented and bright young Commonwealth citizens expressing their opinions and engaging in the international community. I am grateful to our sponsors, Cambridge University Press, and to the participants for helping to make the contest the vibrant and exciting competition that it is today.” 

The theme of this year’s competition was ‘Opportunity through enterprise’ – the Commonwealth theme for 2013 – and, as ever, participants displayed ingenuity in their approaches to the topic. 

From social enterprise to personal development, the participants interpreted the theme in a myriad of ways and the judging team, which was made up of more than 70 journalists, professionals and Commonwealth scholars, commented on the extremely high standard of entries. 

More than 2,000 Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards were presented, with the top four prizes going to New Zealand, Guernsey, Canada and Hong Kong. Chosen from more than 4,500 Senior entries, 19-year-old Katherine McIndoe from Wellington, New Zealand was named as the Senior Prize Winner for her submission ‘To boldly go:’ a letter to the lost girls. 

Explaining the idea behind her entry, which takes the form of a letter to voiceless girls across the globe, Katherine said: “I had become more and more aware of how privileged I am in the choices and freedoms available to me and that so many girls and women around the world don’t have these freedoms. The violence against women in India that came to international attention in December last year really crystallised my thinking, and I wanted to express my feeling that the opportunities that I have – to be educated, to walk down the street without fear, to make my own decisions – must be available to girls everywhere.” 

Sixteen-year-old Abby Wells, a pupil at Southridge School in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, was named as the Senior Runner Up for her entry ‘The little girl in me’. 

Speaking about Abby’s entry, the Senior judging panel said: “Abby’s essay is a genuine, personal entry offering an original approach to the topic ‘Are we too risk-conscious these days?’. The writing has a simplicity in the way it deals with a complex subject and it displays a light touch. This was a very serious contender for the first prize.” 

The Junior Prize Winner, chosen from more than 6,500 entries, was named as 12-year-old Tabitha Carr, a pupil at Blanchelande College in Guernsey. Her entry ‘Is change a good thing?’ is a creative story about family enterprise in Botswana. Talking about her win, Tabitha said that it was “phenomenal to have won”, adding that she hopes that her success might inspire other young people who are dyslexic or have difficulty reading and writing. 

Finally, nine-year-old Catherine Yu from Hong Kong was named the Junior Runner Up for her entry ‘The clothes of sleeping giant mountain’. 

Commenting on Catherine’s entry, the Junior judging panel said: “Catherine’s entry is an extraordinary approach to the topic ‘Is change a good thing?’ which satisfyingly turns full circle in its description of a mountain and the changing seasons. The writing is creative, authentic, poetic, imaginative and witty. The style is concise and sophisticated. The end result is to leave the reader feeling satisfied and uplifted.” 

These four extraordinary entries are just a small insight into the creativity, resourcefulness and talent of the Commonwealth’s one billion young people. These entries, alongside the other 11,000, demonstrate the importance of recognising and encouraging the youth voice through programmes such as the essay competition. 

To view the full list of awards and to read the top entries, see 


About the author:

Verity Sharp is programmes officer at The Royal Commonwealth Society


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