We’re pleased to announce the winners of The Nation‘s sixth annual Student Writing Contest. This year we asked students to send us an original, unpublished, 800-word essay detailing what they think is the most important issue facing their generation. We received hundreds of submissions from high school and college students in forty-one states. We chose one college and one high school winner and ten finalists total. The winners are Bryce Wilson Stucki of Virginia Tech University and Hannah Moon of Brooklyn College Academy in Brooklyn, New York. This is a high school finalist. The winners receive a cash award of $1,000 and the finalists, $200 each. All receive Nation subscriptions. The Editors

There is a bit of cynicism within us all, but when considering our generation, I do not believe the war, economy, politics, or religion will be our downfall. The demise of society will be the result of an insidious disease.  In recent years, there has been a massive outbreak, sweeping the world, highly destructive and demoralizing. The competition pandemic will continue to thrive lest we manufacture a vaccine to destroy it. It exists in all areas of life from education and employment to sustenance and happiness.

As a rising high school senior, the prospect of matriculating into college is daunting. Grades, scores, essays, activites and decisions do not compare to the overbearing sense of competition. As hard as a student may try, he is taught to believe that there is always someone better and more hardworking. We are all plagued with competitition, making it near impossible to imbue confidence within ourselves, let alone convey it to our dream universities. This disease is significantly more potent with our generation than preceding ones. My parents, for example, are constantly shocked with the piles of homework dumped on our heads, weighing down our stressed bodies. The amount of work we do, number of AP classes we take, sleepless nights we endure are all necessary so as not to fall behind. We fight a constant battle with competition; a vicious circle that only intensifies with time. The longer we allow the virus to exist and thrive, the more we exacerbate its presence. A societal ill that certainly resonates with many is the unemployment rate. Of course, much of this can be credited to the economy, but there are always other factors involved. In today’s world, it is very difficult to get a good job without a college degree. The competitive edge of a degree still may not be enough. The same there-is-always-someone-better mentality exists in the workplace, too. From an employer’s standpoint, a Harvard Law graduate is more suitable to work in his office than a high school graduate. These are simply generalizations as a result of the infectious disease.

Our generation is not only made up of driven, obsessive young adults striving to one-up the zealot next to them. Huge numbers of people are infected with competition and it can be fatal. As our population continues to grow exponentially (for the most part), man’s basic struggle becomes increasingly difficult. The search for food, water, and shelter can be a hard feat to conquer. Twenty percent of the world is living in poverty.

Some will say that competition is a good thing. It fosters excellence and drives people to improve. That is true, up to a point. Our society has gone beyond and taken it to an extreme where the negative effects far outweigh the positive. In economic terms, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. In my generation, more youth are taking psychiatric medication than ever before. This could be partially due to the ill effects of relentless competition.

Perhaps the worst side effect of all is the lack of happiness. Competition drains us of our joy and faith. For many, personal success leads to happiness. While this may not be the healthiest mindset, it is realistic and indicative of a great portion of the population. When competition inflicts itself on our lives, it seems arduous to remain positive. As cliched as it may sound, most (hopefully all) will agree that health and happiness are of the highest priority. However, competition clouds this thought, eliminating it from our lives almost entirely.

It is absolutely vital that our generation discover a cure for the competition of our world. This disease is spreading rapidly, virulently transmitting its symptoms from one unsuspecting individual to the next. Everyone is susceptible. No one is immune. The effects of the infection are dire. We need a cure!