Please Wait a Moment

Essay Contest

Opportunities Essay Contest

Past Essay Winners >

2024 Essay Winners Announced!

On April 9 the Virginia Municipal League (VML) announced the statewide winner and seven regional winners of the league’s “If I Were Mayor” Essay Contest. In years past, the contest was limited to seventh graders but for 2024 it was expanded to include eighth graders. As such, there was even more competition from a wider variety of localities this year. The challenge to the students, however, remained the same: Identify an issue in their locality, talk to others about possible solutions, and then identify what solution would best address the issue.

The 2024 winners are:

  • Statewide winner: Piper Dellinger of Signal Knob Middle School in Strasburg
  • Region 1: Maya Morrison of Marion Middle School in Marion
  • Region 2: Avery Gallimore of Christian Heritage Academy in Rocky Mount
  • Region 3: Aiswarya Vinu of Shelburne Middle School in Staunton
  • Region 5: Madeline Sherwood of Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School in Falls Church
  • Region 6: Leia Hatem of J.L. Simpson Middle School in Leesburg
  • Region 7: Eli Henry Smith of E.W. Wyatt Middle School in Emporia
  • Region 8: Jay Reese of Grafton Middle School in Yorktown

*Note – VML did not receive any entries from region 4 this year.

Read 2024 winning essays >

All the winners identified an issue affecting their community and proposed actionable solutions that demonstrated a grasp of what could be accomplished given available resources and public sentiment. In every case, the essayists came to the problem from the perspective of an individual who genuinely wished to make their locality a better place for all.

Of the statewide winning entry, VML’s Executive Director Michelle Gowdy said: “Ms. Dellinger did a fantastic job of identifying a bedrock issue that affects not only her own community but those across the Commonwealth: the lack of citizen engagement and understanding of their local government. I appreciate that her solutions included both things that citizens could do to become more involved as well as things that local governments could do to raise awareness of their work. An outstanding essay by someone who I’m sure has a future making a difference in her community and beyond. Congratulations Piper and to all this year’s winners!”

In addition to a plaque, each regional winner will receive a gift card for $150. The statewide winner will receive a plaque and a gift card for $250. Plans for presentation of the plaques and gift cards are forthcoming.

About the Essay Contest

The Virginia Municipal League (VML) invites students from VML member municipalities enrolled in the 7th or 8th grade during the 2023-2024 school year to join its “If I were Mayor” essay contest.

Regional winners selected from around the state will each receive a $150 gift card and a plaque. One statewide winner chosen from the regional winners will receive a $250 gift card and a plaque. The runner-up from the region that receives the statewide award will become that region’s winner.

Winning essays will be featured in the May issue of VML’s magazine Virginia Town & City.

*See first item under “Rules & Regulations” below for eligibility requirements.

2024 Essay Contest

Being a mayor or community leader is a challenging but rewarding job. It’s challenging because you must balance the needs and requests of different people in your community who don’t always agree with each other. It’s rewarding because, along with your city or town council or county board, you get to be one of the people who ensures that the best solutions are used to address the problems that affect everyone.

VML wants to give you a chance to show what you would do to solve a problem in your community.

Here’s how it works:

What’s the problem?  If you were a community leader like a mayor, what’s a problem in your locality you would want to solve? If could be something big that affects the whole community or something small that affects only a few people. If you are having trouble thinking of something, ask an adult (teacher, parent, guardian, relative, friend) for ideas.

What’s a solution? Ask a community member (teacher, parent, relative, classmate, friend, etc.) about the problem and find out what they think should be done to solve it. Feel free to ask more than one person to gather more answers..

Choose your solution. Does the community member’s solution sound like it would work? Or do you think there is a better way to solve the problem? It’s up to you!

Put it all together: Write a brief (300-500 words) essay in which you:

  1. Identify the problem.
  2. Summarize the community member’s idea to solve the problem.
  3. Propose the best solution. If you agreed with community member, explain why. If you think your idea will work better, explain why.

How to enter

All entries must be received by end of day on Monday, March 25. There are two ways to submit your entry:

Fill out and submit our online form:

  • The form is available here >
  • Copy and paste your essay into the “Essay” box in the form.
  • You can do this yourself or you can have your teacher or someone else help you.
  • After VML receives your entry, a confirmation email will be sent to the email address entered on the form.
  • At the top of the form, you will need to provide your full name, the name and location of your school, and your teacher’s full name and email address.


Mail your essay with a filled-out entry form attached and mail to:

VML, Attn: 7th and 8th Grade Essay Contest
P.O. Box 12164
Richmond, VA 23241

Rules & Regulations

The contest is open to all Virginia students from VML member municipalities enrolled in the 7th or 8th grade during the 2023-2024 school year. If you were a regional or statewide winner in 2023 you are not eligible to win this year (but congrats on your 2023 win!).

If you are not sure if you live or go to school in a member municipality, check the list of VML member municipalities.

All essays should be typed. Handwritten essays must be legible to be eligible for review.

Only one essay may be submitted per student.

Entries will be judged based on content and style.

Essays must be submitted by the end of the day on Monday, March 25. Winners will be notified in early April.  VML will present the awards to the winners at one of their local council or school board meetings.

VML retains the right to publish essays along with the names and photos of each winning student.