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The John Sexton Scholars Program invites high school students across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to participate in the 2023 John Sexton Essay Contest. The competition challenges students to write an original and creative research essay for the following prompt:

NYU Law professor Kenji Yoshino has discussed the tension between punishment and mercy, each of which can go to extremes without the other. Focusing on a current or past international mass conflict within the past 40 years, evaluate the potential role of a hypothetical Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), keeping this tension in mind. How would your hypothetical TRC achieve or fall short of the goal of providing victims with a balanced form of justice?


All students must:

  • Currently be enrolled in a high school (grades 9-12)

  • Attend a high school in NY, NJ, or CT

  • Not have previously won or received an honorable mention in the JS Essay Contest

  • Not be related to any member of the JS Scholars Program Team or a current judge

  • Only one enter per year per student

Essay Guidelines

  • No more than 600 words (excluding in-text citations and bibliography)

  • At least three varied sources, such as newspapers and journal articles, books, TED Talks, videos, documentaries, government websites, and JS Scholar Interviews

  • Sources must be documented with in-text citations and a bibliography (MLA only) 

  • Only one entry per student per year

Submission Guidelines

  • The deadline is 11:59 pm EST on June 30th, 2023

  • Essays must be submitted via our website

  • Entries must be sent as a PDF document. The title should be your last name then first name. (Ex: Sexton, John)

  • The following must be submitted via our website's submission page: name, email address, high school currently attending, and current grade level.

Judging Criteria

​Content – 75%

  • Focus:  Insightful development of a relevant thesis

  • Supporting Evidence:  Well researched analysis of the question and convincing arguments with specific examples (Use evidence to support your ideas; do not merely paraphrase sources).

  • Source Material:  Bibliography of three or more varied sources​

Presentation – 25%

  • Quality of Writing:  Clarity, flow, vocabulary, and style 

  • Organization:  Well structured essay, including an introduction and conclusion

  • Conventions:  Spelling, grammar, syntax, and punctuation

Awards & Scholars Program


1st Place - $1,000

2nd Place - $300

3rd Place - $200

Two Honorable Mentions - $50 each


All five winners will receive:


  • A personal Awards Ceremony for students and their families

  • Guidance on SAT and College Application

  • A unique college & career mentorship with NYU President Emeritus, John Sexton 

Winners will also become members of our Scholars Program, which includes:

  • Writing mentorships with our Student Journal

  • A unique collective grantmaking experience

  • Various internship opportunities

Past winners have gone on to attend NYU, Harvard, Yale, Cornell and other prestigious universities.

Winners will be announced and notified via email by August 1st, 2023.


Awards are sponsored by:



We recommend that you peruse the following resources to best prepare for the contest:​

  • Advice from previous contest winners and their essays published on this website

  • Purdue Online Writing Lab’s free writing and MLA guide

  • Our Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook pages for ongoing news on the contest and advice on how to approach the essay

  • Our YouTube Channel for interviews by JS Scholars with leading world experts 

JS Scholars' Interviews

JS Scholars' Interviews

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  • Essays must solely be the wok of the entrant. Plagiarism will result in disqualification.

  • Essays must not infringe on any third-party rights or intellectual property of any person, company, or organization. 

  • The John Sexton Scholars Program reserves the right to print and display the essays and photographs of the contest winners. 

  • Previous year winners are not eligible to compete in the contest.

  • All entries become the property of the John Sexton Scholars Program and will not be returned.

  • Decisions of the John Sexton Essay Contest Judges are final.