National High School Essay Contest

The 2015 winners have been announced!
Check back in November for the 2016 topic.
Deadline for 2016 submissions will be March 15, 2016.

The American Foreign Service Association is excited to announce the results of the 2015 National High School Essay Contest. More than 450 students from 41 states submitted essays. Fifty qualified essays moved to the second round of judging. AFSA chose one winner, one runner-up and 21 honorable mentions.

This year’s winner, Thomas Keller, is a rising junior at The Episcopal School of Dallas. His winning essay offered a potential solution to rising crime and poverty rates in Honduras by increasing microfinance loans. Keller suggested that the Department of State develop a comprehensive asset assessment program, which would determine who is eligible for a loan, and a social media marketing campaign, which would help microfinance charities spread word of their activities. Microfinance loans, Keller argued, would help “set the recipient individual or community on a path to economic security” and, in turn, help to alleviate crime caused by extreme poverty. He backed this claim with thorough research on the correlation between crime and poverty and the success of numerous microfinance institutions. 

Keller learned of the essay contest from his world history teacher Marc Salz, who has been using AFSA’s prompts as term paper topics for several years. Many past runners-up have been students of Salz. Keller enjoys many extracurricular activities, including FIRST and Botball Robotics and community service with the youth group at his local church. He has participated in policy debate since sixth grade and is currently founding a debate program at his current high school. He attributes his critical thinking skills to the many hours of preparation, study and argumentation fostered by debate practices and competitions.

Keller’s “greatest passions” are computer science and programming, and he plans to study either software engineering or electrical engineering at Harvey Mudd College, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology or another university focused on science and technology. His interest in international relations stems from his love of coding. Both disciplines, he argues, consist of “tackling delicate, complex problems” with skill, creativity and determination.

As this year’s winner, Keller won the chance to meet Secretary of State John Kerry and a full scholarship to Semester at Sea. He hopes the voyage, a “fascinating opportunity,” will help him “grow as a person” and allow him to “experience other cultures, broadening [his] horizons.” Click here to read Keller's winning essay.

This year’s runner-up is Anuj Krishnamurthy, a recent graduate of The Lawrenceville School in Monmouth Junction, N.J. Krishnamurthy’s essay explained the significance of Kazakhstan, the world’s ninth largest country, to global diplomacy. He argued that U.S. foreign policy should thus begin “expanding and enhancing current ties,” which remain weak in comparison with other global superpowers, with Kazakhstan. Krishnamurthy suggested that cultural diplomacy and economic diversification would form the basis for revitalizing U.S.-Kazakh relations. Positive connections between Kazakh citizens and American art, music, schools and businesses, combined with a push away from the currently oil-based economy, would increase U.S. influence in the region without an exorbitant increase in expenses.

Krishnamurthy learned of the essay contest while doing research on Foreign Service careers for his teacher, Regan Kerney. As runner-up, Krishnamurthy won a full scholarship to attend the National Student Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. and the chance to participate in their International Diplomacy program.

AFSA would also like to honor the top 22 honorable mentions: Hasnat Ahmad (Euless, Texas), Mohamed Ali (West Valley City, Utah), Deja Chappell (Montgomery, Ala.), Zachariah Chou (Pembroke Pines, Fla.), Ji-won Cyhn (Manila, Philippines), Bhavin Gupta (Portland, Ore.), Jasa Harris (Lexington, Ky.), Lilian Isabel Ivanescu (Dearborn Heights, Mich.), Kundan Kakaria (San Jose, Calif.), Anirudh Koka (Chandler, Ariz.), Elizabeth Konneker (Uniontown, Ohio), Madeline Lane (Port Washington, N.Y.), Akhil Maddukuri (Little Rock, Ark.), Tristan Malhotra (Irvine, Calif.), Taylor Meckley (Redmond, Wash.), Vikram Nandyala (Tampa, Fla.), Elizabeth Scott (Little Rock, Ark.), Madeline Shea (Racine, Wis.), Sally Soto (Corona, Calif.), Julian Ubriaco (Northport, N.Y.), Calvin Wilder (Springfield, Va.), Kayla Yonkers (Canyon Country, Calif.).

AFSA extends sincere gratitude to all who submitted an essay this year.

For more information about AFSA's National High School Essay Contest, please contact Coordinator for Special Awards and Outreach Perri Green at or (202) 719-9700.


AFSA collects your information for this contest and for AFSA partners.  You may be signed up to receive updates or information from AFSA and our partners. You will receive confirmation from AFSA that your submission has been received and a notification if you are the winner or an honorable mention in May 2015. You may also receive a message from our sponsor regarding their program offerings.


Students whose parents are not in the Foreign Service are eligible to participate if they are in grades nine through twelve in any of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. territories, or if they are U.S. citizens attending high school overseas. Students may be attending a public, private, or parochial school. Entries from home-schooled students are also accepted. Previous first-place winners and immediate relatives of directors or staff of the AFSA and Semester at Sea are not eligible to participate. Previous honorable mention recipients are eligible to enter. $2,500 to the writer of the winning essay, in addition to an all-expense paid trip to the nation’s capital from anywhere in the U.S. for the winner and his or her parents An all-expense paid educational voyage courtesy of Semester at Sea

The winner's school also receives a donation of 10 copies of AFSA's Inside a U.S. Embassy: Diplomacy at Work


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