National High School Essay Contest

AFSA Announces the Winner of the 2023 High School Essay Contest

The American Foreign Service Association’s national high school essay contest completed its twenty-third year with over 400 submissions from 44 states.

Three randomized rounds of judging produced this year’s winner, Justin Ahn, a junior from Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Massachusetts. In his essay, “Mending Bridges: US-Vietnam Reconciliation from 1995 to Today,” Justin focuses on the successful reconciliation efforts by the Foreign Service in transforming US-Vietnam relations from post-war tension to close economic and strategic partnership.

Justin traveled to Washington in AUgust 2023, where he met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He also received a full tuition scholarship to an educational voyage with Semester at Sea.

Niccolo Duina was this year’s runner-up. He is a senior at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas. Niccolo attended the international diplomacy program of the National Student Leadership Conference in summer 2023.

There were eight honorable mentions:

  • Santiago Castro-Luna – Chevy Chase, Maryland
  • Dante Chittenden – Grimes, Iowa
  • Merle Hezel – Denver, Colorado
  • Adarsh Khullar – Villa Hills, Kentucky
  • Nicholas Nall – Little Rock, Arkansas
  • Ashwin Telang – West Windsor, New Jersey
  • Himani Yarlagadda – Northville, Michigan
  • Sophia Zhang – San Jose, California

Congratulations! We thank all students and teachers who took the time to research and become globally engaged citizens who care about diplomacy, development, and peacebuilding.

If you are not graduating this year, please consider submitting another essay for next year’s contest. The new prompt will be published in fall 2023.


AFSA collects your information for this contest and for AFSA partners. You may be signed up to receive updates or information from AFSA and our partners. You will receive confirmation from AFSA that your submission has been received and a notification if you are the winner or an honorable mention in June. You may also receive a message from our sponsor regarding their program offerings.


Students whose parents are not in the Foreign Service are eligible to participate if they are in grades nine through twelve in any of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. territories, or if they are U.S. citizens attending high school overseas. Students may be attending a public, private, or parochial school. Entries from home-schooled students are also accepted. Previous first-place winners and immediate relatives of directors or staff of AFSA, NLSC and Semester at Sea are not eligible to participate. Previous honorable mention recipients are eligible to enter. $2,500 to the writer of the winning essay, in addition to an all-expense paid trip to the nation’s capital from anywhere in the U.S. for the winner and his or her parents, and an all-expense paid educational voyage courtesy of Semester at Sea.

The winner's school also receives a donation of 10 copies of AFSA's Inside a U.S. Embassy: Diplomacy at Work


The Fund for American Diplomacy is AFSA's 501(c)(3) charitable organization that supports AFSA’s outreach goals. AFSA National High School Essay contest is AFSA’s main outreach initiative to high school students. We appreciate your willingness to contribute. Rest assured that your contribution will be put to good use. Donations to the FAD are fully tax deductible.