2009 Student Essay Scholarships

The topics for the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s two 2009 student essay scholarships have been announced.

Both the high school and the college essay competitions involve a $2,000 cash scholarship for the first-place winning essay, a $1,000 cash scholarship for second place and $500 for third place. ($200 “honorable mentions” are awarded at judges’ discretion.)

Foundation members are asked to help publicize the competitions at local public schools, colleges and universities. Handy guidelines, which can be photocopied or clipped and mailed, can be found on the inside back mailing wrapper. The guidelines are also posted online at: ffrf.org/essay

“Given the state of the economy, we consider the Foundation’s annual student scholarships to be more important than ever. Very few scholarship programs reward critical thinking or independent thought,” said Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-presidents.

  • The Blanche Fearn Memorial Award for college-bound high-school seniors asks students to write on the timely topic of “Why Darwin Is Important to America.”

    The year 2009 marks the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species. Yet half of adult Americans embrace creationism. Students are asked to address the dangers to America of such mass ignorance. They may wish to write about how rejection of science in favor of bible literalism hurts the next generation, America’s stature in the world, or scientific progress, or they may address the history of the evolution vs. creationism battle. Students should include some suggestions about how individuals, public schools or science educators can combat creationism. High school essays of 3–4 typed, double-spaced pages and standard margins should be stapled, include the student’s own title, and a one-paragraph biography. The biography should include permanent and campus address (if known), e-mail and phone numbers, name and city of high school they are graduating from, and name and location of college or university in which they will be enrolled in the fall. The paragraph should include intended major and interests. Do not include a resume.

    The high school essays must be postmarked no later than June 1, 2009. No faxed or e-mailed essays will be accepted. Students will be disqualified if they do not follow instructions. Winners will be announced in August 2009. The essay competition is open only to students living or studying in the United States or Canada.

    Blanche Fearn was a Foundation activist and benefactor who, although a lifelong learner, never had the means to attend college. She protested prayers as a high school student in New York City in the 1920s.

  • Currently-enrolled college students competing for the Michael Hakeem Memorial College Essay Competition are asked to write about “Why I Reject Religion,” “Why I am an Atheist/Agnostic/Unbeliever,” or “Growing Up a Freethinker.” They may use a personal (biographical), philosophical or sociological approach, or describe why they choose reason over faith. Experiences in rejecting religion in a religious society may be included.

College students should submit a 4–5 page essay (typed, standard margins, double-spaced, stapled), choosing their own title, and including a one-paragraph biography. Do not include a resume. No e-mails or faxes accepted. The competition is limited to North American students or students enrolled in North American colleges or universities at least through December 2009.

College essays should be postmarked no later than July 1, 2009. College winners will be announced by September 2009.

By entering the contest, winning students agree to have their essays printed in full or in part in Freethought Today, and later posted online at the Foundation website. Winners will be asked to provide a photograph suitable for publication. Winners also receive a school-year subscription to Freethought Today. Eligible non-winning entrants will be offered a freethought book or newspaper subscription.

Michael Hakeem was a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who died at age 90 in 2006. Mike, the son of first-generation immigrants, went on to earn a Ph.D. He influenced generations with his classes in critical thinking. A stalwart atheist, he was chair of the Foundation’s governing board for many years.

Freedom From Religion Foundation