Kenan Moral Purpose Award

The Kenan Moral Purpose Award is given for the best undergraduate student essay on the role a liberal arts education plays in students’ exploration of the personal and social purposes by which to orient their future and the intellectual, emotional, and moral commitments that make for a full life.

Established in honor of the Institute’s 15th anniversary at Duke and subsequently expanded, the award represents a partnership with the Parr Center for Ethics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. One winner from each school receives $1,000. This contest is open to all currently enrolled undergraduate students at both Duke and UNC.

Essays of between 500-800 words should address either or both of the following questions:

  • In what ways have your core beliefs and larger aims been tested, transformed, or confirmed during your time in college?
  • How have you had to defend or challenge prevailing ideas, social norms or institutions and what lessons have you learned from doing so?

The 2015 deadline is Thursday, October 15. To submit an essay or ask for further information, contact Cece Mercer <>.


The 2014 winners were Lauren Carroll (Trinity ’14) and Daniel Pigeon (UNC-CH ’15), with their winning essays, “Split Loyalties” and “Mandatory Modesty.”

Joy Liu’s (Trinity ’14) “Ambition” and Elizabeth Henderson’s (UNC-CH ‘13) “On Open Mindedness” were the 2013 winners.

Sophia Staal’s (T’15) “Different Strokes” and Darius Love’s (UNC-CH’12) “Little Fish, Big Pond” were the 2012 winners.

Rae Dong’s (T’11) “Purpose, Not Perfection” and Bethany Horstmann’s (T’13) “When Service Isn’t Enough, Building a New Understanding of Morality” were the 2011 winners.