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?

Note: the new 2015 deadline extension for Duke students is Sunday, November 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.