Student Reflections on “What Makes Life Worth Living?”
An All-Media Competition

We would like to hear from students about their reflections on the theme. We invite you to explore the question and the countless ways it has been answered over time and around the globe.

What makes life worth living for you? And where does your answer come from? Was it inspired by a person, an experience, a moment in history, a book, a work of art…? Is the answer the same one you would have given when you arrived at UM? How has your coursework, your co-curricular activities, your experiences abroad, or other parts of your years at Michigan shaped your answer?

We welcome submissions of essays, short fiction, poetry, transcripts of interviews, songs, videos, photography, and other visual media.

We will award six $250 prizes to the best entries across all media. We will also distribute a number of honorable mention awards in the form of gift cards to Zingerman’s.

CLICK HERE for the full guidelines of the competition!

What Makes Life Worth Living?

This question has probably been around as long as people have been asking questions. It has been central to philosophical, religious, and political thought for millennia and engagement with it should be a regular part of every student’s college experience.

David Brooks wrote a recent column in the New York Times entitled “The Summoned Self” that focused on the importance for students of identifying the purposes that will guide their lives. He refers to another column from the Harvard Business Review by Clayton Christensen, entitled “How Will You Measure Your Life?” Brooks and Christensen have quite different notions how one might best go about identifying and pursuing one’s life goals, but they both emphasize how important it is that students find time in their busy lives to consider these questions.

The commitments and dispositions that students develop as undergraduates shape the trajectories of their adult lives. The theme semester on “What Makes Life Worth Living?” seeks to call attention to the importance of not letting concern for making a living dominate concern for making a life. The University of Michigan is a wonderful place to explore the answers to the theme question over the centuries and around the globe–through the curriculum, the collections of our libraries and museums, the events in our theaters and auditoriums, co-curricular activities, community service and study abroad programs … the list goes on and on.

The organizers of the theme semester have compiled a broad array of opportunities for engaging with the theme, including lectures, films, participatory activities, and a competition for reflections on the theme. Faculty have developed new courses that address the theme and learning communities have selected “summer reads” books that reflect the many ways one can approach the theme. Quite a few of the activities you will find described on this website have been developed especially for this theme semester, but many are activities that are a regular part of the University community, including a number of annual lectures that bring distinguished individuals to campus to share their wisdom and experience. This is testimony to the fact that despite increasing academic specialization and increasing attention by students to what they will do when they graduate, it continues to be very much the business of the University to be a place that pays serious attention to what makes life worth living.

The biggest occasion on campus this fall will be the celebration of the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s speech on the steps of the Michigan Union in which he proposed what soon became the Peace Corps. There will be an event-filled week in mid-October that will serve as the kickoff for a national celebration of the program that has sent some 200,000 volunteers to more than 130 countries in its half-century. For information about the activities planned for this celebration, see

We hope you will find many ways to fit the theme semester into your fall term. We look forward to seeing and hearing from you.