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Due to the coronavirus/COVID-19,
we are temporarily postponing the scholarship essay contest.
We will update this website in the near future.

Civic Initiative Essay Contest


As the political climate in our society becomes increasingly polarized, civil discourse and civic engagement remain a necessity to unify our nation and advance our democracy forward. The American Center for Political Leadership (ACPL) at Southeastern University is hosting its first annual essay contest centered around civil discourse and civic engagement.

High school students can win up to $1,500 in scholarship prize money with a winning essay for the American Center for Political Leadership Civic Initiative Essay Contest.

Contest Details

High school students in grades 9 through 12 can submit one essay in response to the following prompt:

Why is civic engagement and the need for civil discourse important in our current political climate?

Students will be judged for the content of their essay and 10 finalists will advance to the second round of judging. These finalists will present their essays to a panel of five judges, hosted at Southeastern University on April 30, 2020. Judges will include local college professors and community leaders.

  • Submission deadline: March 30, 2020
  • Finalists selected: April 21, 2020
  • Winners announced: April 30, 2020


The top 10 finalists will be announced on April 21, 2020, and will be invited to read their essay before a panel of five judges at a ceremony on April 30, 2020, held at Southeastern University’s Buena Vida Auditorium. The three winners will be named at this ceremony and awards will be presented.

  • First Place — $1,500
  • Second Place — $1,000
  • Third Place — $500

Eligibility TOP

This essay contest is open to high school students in grades 9 through 12 who reside in Polk County, including students attending public, private, parochial and charter institutions, and homeschooled students of equivalent grade status.

Rules TOP

  • The contest deadline is March 30, 2020, at 11:59 p.m.
  • Essays may not exceed 1,000 words. Citations and bibliography are excluded from the word count.
  • Essays must be the original intellectual and written work of the student. Plagiarism is strictly prohibited.
  • Essays must have a minimum of 3 sources.

Format TOP

  • Essays must be typed and submitted as a Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx) document.
  • Essays must be double spaced
  • Essays must be in 12 point Times New Roman
  • Essays must include a cover page, including the full name of the student, the name of the school or homeschool and the word count.
  • Essays must respond to the prompt.
  • Essays must be written in MLA, APA or Turabian formats.
  • Essays must include a bibliography.

Submission TOP

All essays must be submitted online via this website, or through the mail via: American Center for Political Leadership, 1000 Longfellow Blvd. Lakeland, FL 33801. Mail must be postmarked by March 30, 2020.

Judging criteria TOP

The judging panel will consist of five judges, comprised of college professors and community leaders. They will evaluate each piece based on its content and presentation.

  • Content TOP

    • Use of sources
    • Thorough research
  • Presentation TOP

    • Grammar, spelling and composition
    • Clarity and effectiveness in analyzing what civic engagement is and what civil discourse means
  • Disqualifying factors TOP

    • Plagiarism
    • Use of less than 3 sources
    • Submissions in a format other than MLA, APA or Turabian.


Q. Who is able to participate?
A. High school students in grades 9 through 12 who reside in Polk County, Florida.
Q. Are there restrictions on where I can use the scholarship prize?
A. The scholarship will be given as a cash prize and recipients have the freedom to apply the scholarship to the college or university of their choice.
Q. Can I submit my essay before the deadline?
A. Yes.
Q. Should I include a bibliography?
A. Yes.
Q. Can I have a teacher/parent proofread my essay?
A. Yes. Teachers, parents and friends are permitted to proofread your essay as proofreading is not considered plagiarism. The essay in its entirety should be original content formulated and written by the student.
Q. I have additional questions not answered in this FAQ. What should I do?

Essay Upload Form TOP

Contact Information TOP

Shelee Meeker
American Center for Political Leadership
1000 Longfellow Blvd.
Lakeland, FL 33801
shelee.meeker@theacpl.org | 863-667-5051