2020 John Sexton Essay Contest

The Rise for Rohingya Campaign invites high school students across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to participate in the 2020 John Sexton Essay Contest. The competition challenges students to write an original and creative essay for the following prompt:


Identify and elaborate on one or more lessons that we have learned from historical genocides or mass persecutions. Can these lessons be applied to the Rohingya Refugee Crisis? 

Committee Chair

Gowher Rizvi, Ph.D.
International Affairs Adviser to the
Prime Minister of  Bangladesh

Judges Committee

Jesse Corburn
Assistant Superintendent,
Uncommon Collegiate
Charter High Schools
Ting Yu, M.Ed.
Founder & Editor-in-chief,
Teach for America's One Day Magazine
Sean Gavin, M.Ed.
Principal & Co-Founder,
Uncommon Leadership
Charter High School
Shakil Ahmed, Ph.D.
Founder & CEO, Princeton Alpha Management LP 
Jesse Horwitz
Co-CEO & Co-Founder, Hubble
Kamal Ahmad, J.D.
Founder & President,
Asian University for Women
Adem Carroll, M.A.
United Nations & New York
Program Director, Burma Task Force
Faisal Saeed Al Mutar
Founder & President of Ideas Beyond Borders;
Iraqi Refugee
William Wheelan
CEO & Founder, Sentia Education
Chaumtoli Huq, J.D.
Founder & Editor-in-Chief of
Law@theMargins; Associate Professor
of Law, CUNY School of Law


All students must:

  • Currently be enrolled in a high school (grades 9-12)

  • Attend a school in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut

  • Not have previously won or received an honorable mention in the John Sexton Essay Contest

  • Not be related to any member of the Rise for Rohingya Team or current judge

Essay Requirements


  • No more than 500 words in length and double-spaced

  • At least three varied sources, such as newspaper and journal articles, books, TED Talk videos, documentaries, and government websites

  • Sources must be documented within text citations and a bibliography 

  • Only one entry per student per year

Submission Guidelines

  • The final deadline is 11:59 pm EST on December 30th, 2020

  • Essays must be submitted to essay@riseforrohingya.org

  • Entries must be sent as a PDF document

  • Cover sheets must include the author’s:

        ○  Name

        ○  Email address

        ○  High school currently attending

        ○  Current grade level​


Awards & Mentorship Program

1st Place - $500 Visa gift card

2nd Place - $300 Visa gift card

3rd Place - $200 Visa gift card

Four Honorable Mentions - $50 Visa gift card each


All seven winners will be provided with a unique mentorship opportunity with NYU President Emeritus, John Sexton.
This includes:

  • Advice on college applications and personal statements

  • Discussions about college and career goals

  • General guidance as students navigate their university studies

In addition, all winners will receive:

  • SAT Tutoring from an elite test prep agency, Sentia Education

  • A personal Awards Ceremony for students and their families 

  • A signed copy of John Sexton’s book Standing for Reason


Past winners of the John Sexton Essay Contest have gone on to attend
NYU, Harvard, U. Michigan, Yale, Cornell and many other prestigious colleges and universities.

Winners will be announced and notified via email by March 1st, 2021


Awards are sponsored by Justice For All and Rise for Rohingya


Judging Criteria

Content – 75%

  • Focus:  Insightful development of a relevant thesis

  • Supporting Evidence:  Well researched analysis of the question and convincing arguments with specific examples (Use evidence to support your ideas; do not merely paraphrase sources).

  • Source Material:  Bibliography of three or more varied sources

Presentation – 25%

  • Quality of Writing:  Clarity, flow, vocabulary, and style 

  • Organization:  Well structured essay, including an introduction and conclusion

  • Conventions:  Spelling, grammar, syntax, and punctuation


We recommend that you peruse the following resources to best prepare for the contest:


  • Essays must solely be the work of the entrant. Plagiarism will result in disqualification. Essays must not infringe on any third-party rights or intellectual property of any person, company, or organization.

  • ​The Rise for Rohingya Campaign reserves the right to print and display the essays and photographs of the contest winners.

  • Previous year winners are not eligible to compete in the contest.

  • All entries become the property of the Rise for Rohingya Campaign and will not be returned.

  • Decisions of the John Sexton Essay Contest Committee are final.

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