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20 years since the first Great American Think-Off

Is the nature of humankind inherently good or inherently evil?

In 1993, this was the very first Great American Think-Off question. Back then, 110 armchair philosophers from 10 Midwestern states responded, and that summer, four finalists argued their beliefs before a live audience.

The debate was so compelling on both sides that the vote was split and the question was never answered. 

Now it's your chance to settle the debate. Write and submit your own 750 word essay by April 1, 2012.  Anyone and everyone from every walk of life can enter for a chance to win one of four $500 cash awards and an invitation to debate the subject at this year's Great American Think-Off in New York Mills. 

The contest asks entrants to base their arguments on personal experience, and essays are judged not only on that premise but also on the strength and clarity of their arguments. 

Four finalists will be notified on May 1, and will defend their stance on June 9. Each finalist receives $500, paid travel expenses to the event and the chance to become "America's Greatest Thinker." 

Entering the competition is easy. Just submit your 750 word essay by April 1, 2012 (postmark date) in one of three ways: mail to Great American Think-Off, New York Mills Regional Cultural Center, P.O. Box 246, New York Mills, MN 56567; email nymills@ (no attachments); or fill out the online form at

The 1993 finalists included Katie McCannon, a 15-year-old honor student and cheerleader from Kansas; Jennifer Stites Black Moon, a mother, former firefighter and law enforcement  officer; Jeff Ethen, a Catholic priest and former newspaper publisher; and Charles Eldredge, a former research engineer and newspaper publisher from North Dakota. The contestants have been invited to return as honoree participants at this year's event.