Fourth Annual Narrative “Tell Me a Story” High School Contest

What happens when you make a mistake? A mistake that can’t be smoothed over, reconciled, or unmade? That’s a question for the ages—and for story.

We’re living in such fraught times. And too often the adults we see and hear on the public stage don’t fess up to their mistakes. So we roll along. But wait. In the hands of skilled writers, mistakes are gold. They are opportunities for drama, reflection, reversals of fate and fortune; at bottom, they are grim reminders of life lived and suffered. Who better to address the subject of “The Mistake” than students in high school, where every day looms as a minefield of potential blunders?

In this year’s Narrative “Tell Me a Story” High School Contest, we asked students around the world to address, in a six-hundred-word story or essay, a pivotal mistake. These young writers proved they are fearless in mining life’s hard lessons and finding grace when it’s in the offing, or, if not, revealing how truly painful mistakes can be.

What is a pivotal mistake when you’re fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, eighteen?

A weekend at home turns into a devastating hookup at the tender age of twelve; a superstar straight-A student goes on a shoplifting spree, if only to counter her parents’ relentless expectations; a boy cheats on his girlfriend in the most public of arenas, the homecoming dance; an immigrant spends his last pennies on a mistake that becomes the fruit of family legend.

These are not simple or easy stories. They are as much about what is left out of the tale, as what is given. Whether or not fiction, they read true—as good stories must. I have such respect for these unflinching messengers of candor, bravery, talent. We’re wise to heed them.     —Carol Edgarian

Listen the winners of the Fourth Annual Narrative “Tell Me a Story” High School Contest:

The winners of the Fourth Annual Narrative “Tell Me a Story” High School Contest:


Sophomore, Appomattox Regional Governor’s School, Virginia


Far from the Tree
Senior, Stanford Online High School, Palo Alto


Senior, John Hancock College Prep High School, Chicago


Nothing to Hide
Sophomore, Greens Farms Academy, Connecticut


Althea Hudson, Stanford Online High School
Jocelyn Rojas, Next Generation Scholars
Rachel Wilkins, King City High School

Many thanks to the students and staff of our participating schools: Adel-DeSoto-Minburn High School (Des Moines, IA), Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts and Technology (Petersburg, VA), Castilleja School (Palo Alto, CA), Convent of the Sacred Heart & Stuart Hall High Schools (San Francisco, CA), Eastern Regional High School (Voorhees, NJ), Greens Farms Academy (Greens Farms, CT), Gunn High School (Palo Alto, CA), Heritage School (Limassol, Cyprus), Idyllwild Arts Academy (Idyllwild, CA), John Hancock College Prep High School (Chicago, IL), King City High School (King City, CA), KIPP King Collegiate (San Lorenzo, CA), Lowell High School (San Francisco, CA), Lick-Wilmerding High School (San Francisco, CA), Next Generation Scholars (San Rafael, CA), Seoul Foreign School (Seoul, South Korea), Southmoreland High School (Alverton, PA), Stanford Online High School (Stanford, CA).

Please help us reach more students and teachers in 202o and beyond. Donate today.

Are you a high school teacher interested in receiving information about using Narrative’s free library in your classrooms and news of future writing contests? Please visit our Narrative in the Schools page, or email us here (please be sure to tell us a bit about your school). We’d love to hear from you!

A short video about the High School Contest:

The Narrative “Tell Me a Story” High School Contest is supported in part by:

And Don’t Miss:

Writing Video Tutorials with Cofounder Carol Edgarian.

Learn more about how we’re supporting teachers and students through the Narrative in the Schools Program.

The Third Annual Narrative “Tell Me a Story” High School Contest. Last year, students responded to the prompt When Everything Changed.