Essays for annual contest are due on April 1

Photo by Chad Koenen
Blaine Rada, of Darien, Ill., was crowned as the champion of the 29th annual Great American Think-Off last June in New York Mills. He made the argument that social responsibility is more important than personal choice.

Whether a local zoning committee is approving a new parking lot, or a federal agency is approving a new pipeline, our elected officials must continually grapple with balancing the needs of the environment with the needs of the economy.  President Biden recently showed his hand when he voted for the economy over the environment in approving the controversial Willow oil drilling project in Alaska.

Now the Great American Think-Off is asking armchair philosophers throughout the nation and beyond to share *their* thoughts on this difficult question by April 1 in an essay of 750 words or less.  The top two essayists on each side will be awarded $500 and an expenses-paid trip to New York Mills, MN in June, where they’ll defend their positions and compete for the title of America’s Greatest Thinker.

“Obviously the ideal answer is to have both a healthy environment and a healthy economy, but  when we’re forced to choose one over the other, which is more important to protect,” said Executive Director Betsy Roder.  

On selecting this year’s question, Think-Off Committee Chair Alice Martin notes, “We’ve been asking tough questions for decades, but realized we’ve never asked a question about the environment. With the recent pipeline and mining battles in Minnesota, the question strikes really close to home this year, but we know we aren’t the only ones facing this tension. The Think-Off is a way to explore these tough questions together as a national community, in a fun and civil way.”  

Roder agreed, “We know this year’s question is a particularly tough one, but based on the entries we’ve already received it’s clear Americans are capable of giving it serious thought and finding good answers.”   

Entering the contest is simple and free, just submit an essay of 750 words or less ( by April 1, 2023.  Entrants should take a strong stand, basing their arguments on personal experience and observations rather than philosophical abstraction. 

The top two essayists on each side of the debate receive a $500 cash prize and paid travel expenses to beautiful “Lakes Country” in Minnesota, where they will compete for bronze, silver, and gold medals, and the title of America’s Greatest Thinker, by reading their essays and defending their positions in a “final four” style debate.  The winner is determined by audience vote. The friendly nationally-acclaimed annual event will be held this year at 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 10, in the New York Mills Public School Auditorium. 

To see what past participants have to say about this unique experience, contest details, and information on the past 29 years of questions, visit or call the Cultural Center at 385-3339.