Since the 1950s BJU has held an annual extemporaneous essay-writing contest open to the entire student body. This year’s contest will be held
Feb. 25 at 5 p.m. in Lecture B. The winner will be announced during the annual Awards Ceremony in May.

It’s a simple idea, Mr. Sid Silvester, head of the event and assistant professor in the Department of English, said.

“We see how [the students] can respond to a topic they have no clue about in an hour’s time to see what their imagination or muse has given them to create.”

Students show up with nothing but a pen or pencil and paper and are assigned a number to ensure the contest is anonymous. Then Silvester gives the contestants a three- to four-word phrase. This phrase is their topic, and they have 50 minutes to write an essay on the topic.

Writers can interpret the prompt any way they’d like. The judges have received essays of all types: serious, whimsical, ironic, straightforward, biographical, autobiographical, etc. It just depends on what the student is thinking of at the time.

Although there is no length requirement, Silvester said the judges expect a hefty amount of writing since it is meant to be an essay not just a stream of consciousness. It also must have some structure based on a theme.

Technology is prohibited during the contest, so the competitors will not use spelling and grammar check. For this reason, as well as the short time allotment, judges will not be harsh on spelling and grammar errors.

The completed essays are turned over to the judges. Three to four judges look at all of the essays submitted and choose their favorites. Then the judges collaborate, eventually coming to a consensus and selecting a winner based on the requirements and the strength of the essay.

About 30 students participate each year. Among those is Katie Barrett, an English major who has focused her electives on creative writing classes. Barrett decided to enter the writing contest her sophomore year and ended up winning.

Last year, Barrett was unsure if having won the previous year would prevent her from entering again, but after receiving the green light she went ahead and won again. Now a senior, Barrett is excited to compete once more.

Barrett said it’s interesting to finish writing the essay but have no idea how well you did since you don’t know what everyone else wrote.

“It’s extemporaneous so no one is more ready or less ready [than others,]” Barrett said.  “Everyone is meeting at the same level. It’s worth the shot.”

Silvester said these essays are not typically academic writing.

“This is not the kind of writing —I hope— that students do when they’re turning a paper in,[as in, just sitting] down and 45 minutes later they have their EN 103 literary analysis written,” Silvester said.

Barrett encouraged other students to compete. “I never feel like I’m ready,” she said. “Just do it!”