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The Manson Essays

Please click here for the Manson Essay Handbook.

Oren B. Cheney, President of the Bates College Trustees, established, with several other high-minded individuals, Maine Central Institute in August of 1866, just after the end of the Civil War. The new school began with lofty ideals for educational excellence. Two years later an essay contest for junior students originated.

In 1871, Dr. John C. Manson left a sum of money to MCI with the stipulation that the proceeds be used as prize money for the essays written by members of each junior class. The best of these were to be selected for public oral presentations. "A magnificent and enduring tradition at MCI, The Manson Essay Contest originated," commented Norval Lewis, former English Department Chair, "from the keen desire of Dr. Manson to encourage the writing and speaking qualities of students." John W. Manson later added funds to continue the tradition that has continued, without interruption, through the Depression, many national wars, political upheaval, the denigration of many academic traditions 100 years later and through countless changes of prevailing educational philosophy.

One hundred and thirty-nine years later, how is it then that the original premise behind the Manson Essay Contest could have such relevance and import in the Maine of today? The Guiding Principles of the current standards-based Maine Learning Results stipulate that each Maine student must leave school as a clear and effective communicator who uses oral, written, visual, artistic and technological modes of expression. Each graduate must be a self-directed learner who demonstrates the capacity to undertake independent study and who finds and uses information from libraries, electronic data bases and other resources. Among other things, the graduating senior in Maine must be an integrative and informed thinker who applies knowledge and skills in and across English language arts and comprehends relationships among different modes of thought and methods associated with the traditional disciplines.

The Manson Essay Contest is certainly among the most traditional of Maine academic disciplines and a stringent and unusual requirement for graduation. Virtually every graduate of Maine Central Institute, for over a century, has completed a Manson Essay. As recently as 55 years ago, all junior class students completed their research over a period of time, then gathered all their materials for a day-long, closed door session in The Institute Building, now named Founders Hall. All during that long, long day, the juniors organized their voluminous paperwork, their thoughts and their final drafts which had to be completely written before they left the room.

Although the process itself has changed, with juniors now researching and writing for many months, the pride in being a Manson Essay finalist has continued unabated. The criteria for selecting those finalists and the ultimate champion give equal weight to the written version of the Manson Essay and to the spoken presentation. Prior to the public speaking competition the essays are evaluated and graded by MCI's Humanities Department faculty.



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