Kenan Institute for Ethics Announces Essay Competition for 2019 Moral Purpose Award

Kenan Moral Purpose Award.

Deadline: March 25, 2019

The Kenan Moral Purpose Award is given for the best undergraduate student essay on the role a liberal arts education plays in students’ exploration of the personal and social purposes by which to orient their future and the intellectual, emotional, and moral commitments that make for a full life.

Established in honor of the Kenan Institute for Ethics’ 15th anniversary at Duke and subsequently expanded, the award represents a partnership with the Parr Center for Ethics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

One winner from each school receives $1,000.

2019 Entry Guidelines

This contest is open to currently enrolled undergraduate students at both Duke and UNC (US citizens or permanent residents). Essays of between 500-800 words should address either or both of the following questions:

  • In what ways have your core beliefs and larger aims been tested, transformed, or confirmed during your time in college?
  • How have you had to defend or challenge prevailing ideas, social norms or institutions and what lessons have you learned from doing so?

Essays should be submitted by email as a Word or PDF attachment to Amber Díaz Pearson ( by 5:00 p.m. on Monday, March 25.

2018 Award Winners

“Duke has given me opportunities to see the world and study oppression occurring at home and abroad…We need to take the time, after problematizing everything, to build things back up.”  — Catherine Ward, Duke ’18

“If we were both settled in our views, why spend the time engaging at all? …I pieced together why I found such meaning in these discussions. Usually, they weren’t centered on what, but how… Morality, which we both took so seriously, was somewhat of a bridge between our two very different world views.”  — Keegan Barnes, UNC ’19

The winners of the 2018 Kenan Moral Purpose Award essay competition are Catherine Ward (Duke) and Keegan Barnes (UNC). Catherine (T’18) is a resident of New Bern and will graduate with an English major, an Education minor, and a certificate in Ethics & Society. Keegan (’19) is a Durham native double-majoring in Physics and Philosophy.

Read their 2018 winning essays:

Catherine Ward (Duke ’18): “Building It Back Up” and Keegan Barnes (UNC ’19): “Plastic Pitchfork