President Gerald R. Ford Student Essay Challenge

Each year the theme for the President Gerald R. Ford Scholarship Writing Challenge reflects on an important part of Gerald R. Ford’s character. High school students from public, private, city, suburban, rural and home schools participate in the contest. Finalists are chosen and recognized at a special awards program at the Museum.

2020 President Gerald R. Ford Student Writing Challenge Rules and Guidelines (click here)

“You never know what you can do, until you have to do it.” ~ First Lady Betty Ford
Throughout their lives, President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty Ford showed their sense of determination and grit time and time again: by overcoming adversity in childhood, facing grave danger in WWII, beating cancer, overcoming substance abuse, and leading our country through one of the greatest Constitutional crises in its history. 

We invite you to write 500-750 words sharing your thoughts on the topic of determination.

Some ideas include: How do YOU define determination, grit, perseverance?
Tell about a time that your own determination was tested and you prevailed.
Is there someone in your life, or in history, that you admire for their determination?

The 2020 Competition has now ended. Please check back in the fall for next year’s prompt.

Students are invited to submit entries online. To enter online, please click link for online submission below. If mailing your essay, please submit to address provided below.

  • Easily submit your Essay today by uploading a PDF via our online submission
  • Or, submit your Essay by Mail to the following address by March 13, 2020:
    Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation
    c/o Clare Shubert
    303 Pearl Street, NW Grand Rapids, MI 49504


Utilize the following contacts for questions on the Essay Contest and submissions.

  • Clare Shubert: / 616-254-0409

2020 President Gerald R. Ford Student Writing Challenge Winners

Final judging is complete for the 2020 President Gerald R. Ford Student Writing Challenge. Our top ten finalists are listed below. Our judges had a very difficult time choosing between the nearly 700 entries this year. They were moved by the meaningful stories that were shared and impressed by the level of writing that was displayed. In light of the health and safety complications surrounding Covid-19, the 2020 awards ceremony looked a little different! Our top ten finalists were presented with their awards at their homes. Check out our winners and photos from these unique awards presentations below.

View photos of the 2020 Winners and Finalists

2020 First Place: Isabel Gil, Forest Hills Eastern High School
2020 Second Place: Lillian Van Gelderen, Hart High School
2020 Third Place: Harlie Choponis, Hart High School

2020 Finalists:  Read all essays from Winners & Finalists
Megan Grant, Newaygo High School
Nina Lu, City High Middle School
Ethan Magley, City High Middle School
Carter Meyer, Grand Rapids Christian HS
Kandace Pewee, Grand Rapids Christian HS
Melanie TenElshof, Plymouth Christian HS
Sabra Wolven, Newaygo High School

Out-of-State Award Winner:
Jada Hall, St. Georges Technical High School

President Gerald R. Ford Writing Challenge previous year and past winners

2019 Winners (View photos from the 2019 awards program)

2019 First Place: Caroline Kuntzman, Forest Hills Northern High School
2019 Second Place: Megan Grant, Newaygo High School
2019 Third Place: Ben Joppich, Catholic Central High School


2019 President Gerald R. Ford Student Essay Challenge Finalists and Winners

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