Many colleges and universities across the United States partner with high schools to ceremonially award College Book Awards* to exceptional high school upperclassmen, usually juniors. Each award recognizes a certain area of excellence and achievement, such as talent in music or the arts, academic success, political advocacy, or service in the community. While the ceremony and criteria for the award varies from school to school, the purpose of a College Book Award is essentially the same: to recognize distinguished youth, provide the next generation of emerging leaders an opportunity to develop a broader perspective of the world, and attract high-caliber students who are likely to succeed in the college’s programs.
What separates a College Book Award from other acknowledgements of high achievement is the unique gift each college provides. Each College Book Award recipient is presented with—as the title of the award suggests—a book. Some colleges choose a book about living life to the fullest or how to create change, while others choose books written by alumni or faculty. Since colleges look for well-rounded students who want to make a difference in their community, nation, and world, College Book Awards offer an opportunity to nurture students’ desire to learn and foster their growth and development.
Hillary Clinton attended Wellesley College and was deeply impacted by the university’s goal to empower women to make a difference in the world. She is now a prominent advocate for women’s rights, with an accomplished political career. The Wellesley College Book Award mirrors that goal, “recognizing young women who have excelled in their intelligence, determination, motivation, and achievement… [and are] visible members of their schools and communities.”
Perpetuating the shared belief of lifelong learning, College Book Awards are usually presented by alumni, and the books are sponsored by a local alumni association. The alumni associations sponsoring the awards may change the book given from year to year. The Wellesley College Alumnae Association offers The Norton Book of Women’s Lives, a collection of twentieth century literature—autobiographies, journals, memoirs—celebrating women’s lives.
Other recent examples of College Book Awards include:
- Brandeis University: Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, A Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson by Mitch Albom, a Brandeis alumnus, to juniors who exemplify “a commitment to civic engagement, community service, political activism, social justice, or volunteer work.”
- Dartmouth: A River Runs Through It and Other Stories by Norman Maclean, a Dartmouth alumnus, to juniors who exemplify “outstanding academic achievement and other positive contributions to their school.”
- Brown University: Liberty’s Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty by Elizabeth Mitchell, a Brown alumna, to honor the “junior who best combines academic excellence with clarity in written and spoken expression,” stating that “those who use words effectively will be the leaders in their next generation.”
- Yale University: Dragonflies: Magnificent Creatures of Water, Air, and Land by Pieter van Dokkum, a professor at Yale, presented for “excellence in scholarship, outstanding personal character, and intellectual promise.”
- St Michael’s College: First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung, a Saint Michael’s alumna, to students “attaining high academic achievement and a sustained and sincere commitment to community service, issues of peace and justice, and concern for others.”
Perhaps the most interesting part of College Book Awards is that the message of each book travels far beyond the reach of the pages. As an alumnus from the college places the book in an aspiring youth’s hands, symbolically passing down knowledge from one generation to the next, the book takes on new meaning.
Each word on the page becomes a new path for the reader to follow into the future, encouraging an atmosphere of lifelong learning. Each chapter becomes another way to use knowledge to create positive change around the world.
In today’s world, often filled with sadness and fear, College Book Awards preserve the joy of reading and instill hope for learners and leaders of the future.
Alexander Pavlicin is a high school senior and published freelance writer. During his junior year, he received the Brandeis University Book Award.
*College Book Award recipients are selected by partnering high school administrators or counselors based on student applications or demonstrated contributions. Contact your local high school counselor to find out which colleges or universities your school partners with. Receiving an award does not guarantee admission to the respective college or university, but often carries a cash scholarship for recipients who do attend.
Logos are trademarks of respective institutions.