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What Is the David O. McKay Essay Contest?

Students can submit personal essays about applied Christianity now through February.

Divorce. Faith crises. A global pandemic. BYU students write about these challenges through the lens of the restored gospel for the David O. McKay Essay Contest.

Over the contest’s 41-year run, students have responded to the same prompt—the restored gospel and applied Christianity—by addressing difficult topics in inspiring and faith-promoting ways. Winning essays are published annually in the journal The Restored Gospel and Applied Christianity: Student Essays in Honor of President David O. McKay. “These essays are a pulse on what students are grappling with,” says Jane Brady, coeditor (with Rebecca Clarke) of the journal. “The words of these students can buoy us up to say we’re not alone in the world.”

Front cover of the Restored Gospel and Applied Christianity journal.

The contest is sponsored by the Center for the Study of Christian Values in Literature (now called the Faith & Imagination Institute) and started in 1981 as a national contest. After holding the contest nationally for six years, the center received a grant in 1987 from Obert C. (OC) and Grace Tanner, and the contest was then limited to personal essay submissions from undergraduate and graduate BYU students. OC Tanner was friends with former Church President David O. McKay and wanted to give an endowment in President McKay’s honor. Since 1987, all the contest winners have been awarded money from Tanner’s grant.

Brady says there has been some confusion over the years about whether submissions are supposed to mention President McKay. “The winning essays were never supposed to be about David O. McKay,” but “‘the purpose of the contest is to give . . . students at Brigham Young University a chance to express personal views on how gospel ideals can be applied to daily living,’” she explains, quoting from the 1987 volume of the contest journal.

So how do you write a winning essay? Brady gives a few tips.

First, remember to focus on how the gospel is important in your daily life. These essays are personal essays, not research papers, so they should explore how you apply the principles of the gospel. Additionally, quoting Jay Fox (the second director of the center), Brady says, “We look for essays that ‘achieve a meaningful blend of artistic form and moral content.’”

Second, read what winners from previous years have written so you can get a sense of what the judges have selected in the past. You can find previous issues of the Restored Gospel and Applied Christianity journal in the Harold B. Lee Library, and you can find the current issue online at the Faith & Imagination Institute’s website.

Submissions are open now through February 24, at 5 p.m. The first-place essay wins $1,200; second, $1,000; third, $700.

Click to learn more and submit your own essay to the David O. McKay Essay Contest.