Winner and Finalists Announced for 2nd Annual The Atlantic and College Board Writing Prize

First-Prize essay explores Raphael's The School of Athens; finalists' essays analyze works by M.C. Escher and Frida Kahlo

Washington, D.C.— Thanh T. Nguyen, a high-school senior from Hanoi, Vietnam, is the winner of the second annual The Atlantic and College Board Writing Prize. The award was announced today by Scott Stossel, the editor of The Atlantic magazine, and Sandra Riley, College Board's vice president of communications, at The Atlantic's "Education Summit" in Washington, D.C. Nguyen's essay—on Raphael's famous work of art The School of Athens—stood apart from the more than 2,000 entries in this year's contest. A version of his essay will be published in the September issue of The Atlantic, and he will take home a $5,000 prize.

Nguyen appeared on stage at the "Education Summit" alongside this year's two other finalists: Rahul Malayappan of Danbury, CT, who explored M.C. Escher's Waterfall; and Alejandra Canales of Laredo, TX, who analyzed Frida Kahlo's Autorretrato en la Frontera entre México y los Estados Unidos. Canales and Malayappan will each receive a $2,500 prize. To underline the importance of revision to the writing process, all three finalists received one-on-one editing sessions with members of The Atlantic's editorial staff.

"When The Atlantic and the College Board created the writing prize, we wanted to help students understand the importance of analytical writing," said John Williamson, the vice president of the College Board's AP program. "We think that it is among the most important skills that they can develop in life. When preparing their works for this contest, we also wanted students to understand that revision is not simply proofreading, but is an essential and substantial step in the writing process. Revision is an act of practice that helps writers become truly great."

Now in its second year, the contest—a partnership between The Atlantic and College Board— aims to recognize today's best high-school essay writers and foster the analytical writing skills that are critical to college and career success. Students were challenged to analyze and interpret a meaningful work of art and to understand the importance of revision. This year, the contest received 2,017 entries from students in 43 different countries, covering more than 700 different works of art. The first round of essays was scored by a panel of composition and art history professors narrowing the field to 20 semifinalists; editors from The Atlantic and representatives from College Board selected the finalists and winner.

"All of the semifinalists' essays we read this year were strong, suggesting that hardworking educators in the United States and around the world are cultivating talented and dedicated students, teaching them rigorous analytic thinking and good writing skills," Scott Stossel said. "What set the three finalists apart from their many competitors was their particularly skillful deployment of critical thinking and close reading; the clarity and insight of their writing; and the distinctive and personal literary voices each brought to the artworks they considered."

The winner, Thanh Nguyen, will attend Duke University this fall. "Thanh's winning essay on The School of Athens revealed not only a sophisticated and well-informed understanding of the fresco, and of its history and context, but also a sense of how the ideas Raphael conveys in the work have urgent relevance even—especially—in a place like modern Vietnam, hundreds of years and thousands of miles away from the early 16th-century Vatican, where it was painted," Stossel said. In his winning essay, Nguyen writes: "The most insightful lesson I derived from "The School of Athens" is that the Great Thinkers are there not for us to respect unquestioningly, but rather question respectfully. But for me, the work is powerful ultimately because it reminds me that even under my country's circumstances, it is possible for individual lovers of learning to work towards the ideal it depicts."

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