Shimer students participating in class discussion

The Montaigne Scholarship Event

Join the conversation!

Do you like to read - and follow up a good read with an intelligent conversation? Is every new book a chance to dig into questions that really matter? If so, the Shimer Great Books School at North Central College may be the perfect place for you. We want to help open the door.

Scroll through to the bottom of this page for full details on the Montaigne Scholarship and how to participate!

Shimer students and faculty

Montaigne Scholarship

The Montaigne Scholarship provides substantial tuition relief for students seeking to join the Shimer Great Books School at North Central College. It also offers a taste of what students do in the Shimer School, where we read, discuss and write about the “best that has been thought and said in the world.”

Shimer Students studying

Montaigne Scholarship Event

  • Read a personal essay in the tradition of Michel de Montaigne.
  • Write an original response
  • Participate in a seminar discussion with fellow applicants

We think of the Shimer School as part of a “great conversation.” The Montaigne Scholarship Event is our invitation to join that conversation and carry it on with all of us in the Shimer School - and with all those authors, like Michel de Montaigne, from whom we continue to learn.

shimer students and faculty

Who is Montaigne?

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533–1592) was a French diplomat and civil official in the region of Bordeaux, France. Montaigne is widely credited with the invention of the modern personal “essay,” which term he gave to the written “attempts” (essais in French) he made later in his life to understand both his world and himself as honestly and unflinchingly as he could. Between 1571 and 1587 Montaigne published three books of essays on topics as various as drunkenness, cannibalism, vanity, friendship and aging. Montaigne was very well traveled, both as a diplomat during the height of France’s bloody wars of religion as well as in search of cures for physical ailments that followed him through life. He was elected Mayor of Bordeaux twice and led the city through an outbreak of plague late in his term. His essays thus often portray a dim tableau of human existence, but are marked above all by his abiding skepticism and the openness of mind characterized by his personal motto “Que sçay-je?” or “What do I know?”

The Montaigne Event

The Montaigne Scholarship Event helps introduce prospective students to the Shimer Great Books School and our unique approach to a college education. It is not a competition between applicants; rather, the reading, writing and discussion that comprise the event are designed to reflect the main features of every course offered by the Shimer School.

The first step in each year’s event is for prospective participants to request and read the “subject essay” for that year. Prospective participants can request this year’s subject essay from Laura Kendall Zimmermann at, from McKenna Herbst, at, or from Stuart Patterson, at

The second step is for students to write their own personal “response essay” in reply to the subject essay, guided by a prompt set by the scholarship committee (which prompt will be supplied along with the subject essay). When a participant is satisfied with their response essay, they will submit it to Stuart Patterson (, thereby signaling their interest in participating in the next Montaigne Scholarship Event. Please note: a participant’s response essay must be received before they can participate in the third and final phase of the Montaigne Scholarship Event.

The third and final step is for participants to join other participants in a discussion of the subject essay. For this discussion, participants will be joined by a Shimer School faculty member, who will lead the discussion among participants as they would any Shimer School class. This discussion will give participants a sense of how their ideas on the subject essay compare to those of other participants. Participants will also get a sense of how their courses would be run should they attend the Shimer School.

Students reading in class

The Montaigne Scholarship

The scholarship events are free to enter and open to any prospective student interested in attending North Central College as a major in the Shimer Great Books School, including students transferring from other 2-year and 4-year programs.

Successful participants will receive the Montaigne Scholarship of up to $5,000 annually in addition to their current academic scholarship. Scholarships are renewable at the same dollar amounts and do not increase in subsequent years.

The Montaigne Scholarship is not a competition between participants. All awards are based solely on the quality of a participant's "response essay" and their participation in the Event Day discussion (see "The Montaigne Event" above). No other aspects of participants’ academic records or other aspects of their application to the Shimer School will be taken into account when determining awards.

Only students enrolled in one of the four majors offered by the Shimer Great Books School are eligible to receive the Montaigne Scholarship. Please see this page on our curriculum for more information on majoring in the Shimer School.

Student reading in book in shimer class

Sophie Juhlin

Montaigne Scholarship Recipient

"The Montaigne scholarship served a dual purpose for me—it was a crash course in the mechanics of a Shimer discussion, and a chance to get to know my future classmates in their natural habitat. It was really on the day of Montaigne that I fell in love with Shimer. It’s such an invigorating challenge to describe and defend your interpretation of a text. And like any good Shimer discussion, your understanding lies somewhere between yourself, what you read, and the people you share it with." 

Shimer student Sophie Juhlin in a classroom


Montaigne Event Days

Montaigne Scholarship Events are opportunities for prospective students to meet each other, discuss some big ideas, and get a sense of the kind of intellectual and social journey awaits them in the Shimer School. Participants in the Montaigne Scholarship who cannot attend on the scheduled Event days can request to be interviewed by a Shimer School faculty member instead.

students studying


NOTE: For Winter and Spring 2020-2021, all Montaigne Events will be held online.

All those wishing to participate in a Montaigne Event in preparation for enrolling in the Shimer School for Fall 2021 should contact Laura Kendall Zimmermann, at or McKenna Herbst, at

Shimer students hanging out in lounge

Guidelines and Submission Procedures for Essays for 2020-2021

Read Frederick Douglass' "Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln" (which can be accessed easily  at the link provided or elsewhere online or requested from Stuart Patterson,


Then, please address the following questions in an essay of 600 to 1200 words:


"According to what Douglass says in the Oration, what is his view of political leadership? How does he assess Abraham Lincoln's leadership of the United States through the problem of slavery?"


Please make your essay as clear, concise and compelling as you can in the space allowed.


You must type your essay and submit it in .pdf or .doc/docx format to Dr. Stuart Patterson at The subject heading of your email should state: "Montaigne Essay" and your name. Anyone unable to type their essay or submit it electronically in either format should contact Dr. Patterson for instructions at the address above or at 630-637-5487.

All Are Welcome!

On the Montaigne Scholarship Day, participants can look forward to finding out more about the Shimer School and its programs, including from past recipients of the Montaigne Scholarship. We encourage parents and even other family members to attend these events as well. 

table in shimer classroom

Questions? Contact us!

Still have questions about our Montaigne scholarship or the event? Contact us and we will give you a closer look to what it would mean for you to broaden your horizon within the Great Books School.

Shimer Books in book shelf