University of Notre Dame
University of Notre Dame


Bracken County, Northern Kentucky

Grace Welte entered an essay that she wrote in her first-year Writing and Rhetoric course in the annual Norton Writer’s Prize competition. The Norton Writer’s Prize awards $1,500 to the winner and $1,000 to two runners-up, for “any excellent writing done for an undergraduate writing class.”

My essay, entitled “Bracken County, Northern Kentucky,” simply began as a narrative essay for my Writing and Rhetoric course. From there, it escalated into a larger project that I would continue to revise with the mentoring of John Dillon, my most excellent professor in the course. When I first started the essay, I expected to turn in the first draft, make some small revisions, and move on to the next project — that was until John told me that he saw potential in my writing. From that point on, I had regular meetings with him to discuss the direction and revision of my essay.

The main theme dealt with my experiences as one who grew up on a family-run tobacco farm — an experience that I love to share, but have yet to have found in common with anyone here at Notre Dame. These brainstorm sessions really challenged me to think deeply, poignantly, and creatively. John facilitated resources and advice when they were needed, but I was in control of the final decisions. It felt empowering to direct a project that was so close to my heart. It was like planting a seed and watching it germinate into a magnificent rose; at times I would come across thorns, but the toil and tedious process made the finished project worth it all the more. When it was all said and done, John later learned of the Norton Writer’s Prize competition. He suggested I enter my essay and I agreed. About a year later, I received notice of my status as runner-up in the nationwide competition. Reading about my accomplishment was exhilarating. I was in total disbelief.

I feel so blessed to have been able to work on such a personal project in the environment that I did. I really do believe that if I had been at any other college, in any other class, I would not have been so successful in my endeavor. I received all the encouragement, and personal attention that I needed in order to lift my writing to its current position. Because all of this got started with simple collaboration with my professor, I encourage any student, whether they are a freshman or a senior, to reach out to those who mentor you. They are willing and have so many experiences to share. To not use the resources that are readily available would be an unfortunate loss. Opportunities do not last forever. They come and go, but carrying an open, inquisitive mind can lead to unimaginable feats, especially here at the University of Notre Dame.