The George Gund Award is a $2,500 cash prize awarded annually at Honors Day for an exceptional essay that examines the American form of republican government as set forth in the United States Constitution.

This year, the Center for the Study of American Democracy invites essays that consider the College’s theme for the academic year: learning, unlearning, and relearning.  Essays should analyze the current political moment in the United States from the perspective of what Americans have learned about the rights and institutions established by the U.S. Constitution, what Americans have unlearned or perhaps should unlearn, and what Americans might relearn or learn differently, as we strive to form a more perfect union under the challenges and priorities of the 2020s. 

To understand the “learn, unlearn, relearn” theme, essayists should start by reading Kenyon President Decatur’s blog that introduced the theme for the year.  Essays may address the prompt in many ways, but a well-focused essay might explore just one core principle, right, institutional arrangement, or balance of power established by the U.S. Constitution,  in light of one or two significant current challenges in American political life (such as racial justice; political polarization; inequality; rule of law; populism; economic exclusion; COVID; peaceful transfer of power; climate change), in relation to  the theme of learning, unlearning, and relearning.  

An alternative approach might consider whether it is feasible for a society of 330 million people to learn together how to self-govern together? If so, how? If not, where does that leave us?  How do we maintain liberal democracy if members of the polity do not learn the same lessons about constitutional principles and institutions?

Writers are urged to consider the prompt from both normative and empirical perspectives. In other words, make an argument for why it matters how the constitutional principle has been learned or unlearned or not learned, but also what causes learning, unlearning, or relearning about constitutional principles to happen (and in what ways might those processes be “fast” or “slow,” to reference President Decatur’s essay)? 

Essays are due February 19, 2021, at midnight.

Rules and Judging

The Gund Prize competition is open to any currently enrolled Kenyon student who has not previously won this contest.

Essay writers may not seek assistance from parents, professors, or off-campus mentors. CSAD screens essays with to assure intellectual integrity.  The faculty panel of judges uses a blind review process, identifying the writer only after determining the winning essay. Therefore, your essay should not have your name on the title page nor on headers. Submit your essay as a Word attachment to an email and put your name in the message line.

The judges look for essays that are analytical, original, focused, well informed and skillfully composed. Writers should avoid platitudes, abstractions, partisanship, polemics, or speculation. The essay should be current, yet have enduring value. While not a research paper, the essay should be composed in a formal third-person style and follow standard procedures for scholarly documentation.  A previously written course paper could well serve as a starting point for the essay, with revisions made to address this prompt.


The essay should have between 1,000 and 1,500 elegantly composed words and include a title. Your name should not appear on any page.


Essays should be submitted by email as an Microsoft Word attachment with no identifying information. The message subject line should be: "Gund Essay — your first and last name."
Email your essay to by midnight, February 19, 2021. 


The George Gund Prize was created in 1952 by George Gund Honorary degree of 1950, longtime trustee of the College, chair of the Finance Committee, father of Graham Gund, '63 and former chair of the Cleveland Trust Company.