Announcing 2015 William J. Schulz High School Essay Contest winners

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sincerely congratulates the 23 college-bound high school seniors who won this year’s joint essay competition. FFRF, an educational state/church watchdog that has more than 22,700 members nationwide, has offered essay competitions to college students since 1979, high school students since 1994 and graduate students since 2010.

Seniors were asked to pick from two topics, “Why I’m good without God” or “Atheist/Nonbeliever of color,” and submit 500 to 700 words. FFRF doubled the number of awardee slots this year, awarding first through sixth place for both topics, plus discretionary honorable mentions. There were 13 top awards and 10 honorable mentions. (For unknown reasons, there were many more entries from female students.)

Winners of both competitions are listed below and include the award amount and college or university they’ll be attending in the fall:

First place: Jennifer Gray, 18, Brandeis University ($3,000)
First place: Teneisha Neal, 18, Troy University ($3,000)
Second place: Tess Monet Brown, 18, California Institute of the Arts ($2,000)
Second place: Ananya Garg, 18, University of Washington-Seattle ($2,000)
Third place: Alison Farmer, 18, Michigan State University ($1,000)
Third place: Joelene Kuaana, 18, University of La Verne ($1,000)
Fourth place: Aliyah Davis, 18, Georgia State University ($750)
Fourth place: Lily Zhang, 17, University of Maryland-College Park ($750)
Fifth place: Sasha Rogelberg, 18, Bryn Mawr College ($500)
Fifth place: Alaina Hoover, 18, Drury University ($500)
Fifth place: Karina Solano Suarez, 18, DePaul University ($500)
Sixth place: Jonathan Ortiz, 17, University of Florida ($400)
Sixth place: Bria Bertrand, 18, Kennesaw State University ($400)

Honorable mentions ($200 each):

  • Erica Broderhausen, 18, Boston University
  • Kierra Robertson, 18, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Kahley McBeth, 18, Pennsylvania State University
  • Julian Rauter, 18, Harvard University
  • Anna Bores, 17, Binghamton University
  • Grace Powers, 17, Green Mountain College
  • Telexius Wilson, 18, Palm Beach State
  • Hannah Dolan, 18, University of Oregon
  • Taressa Straighter, 18, Purdue University
  • Jazmyn Glause, 18, University of Wisconsin-Madison

“We truly consider our scholarships for freethinking students to be among FFRF’s most important investments in the future of freethought,” said Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “There are thousands of scholarships for religious student, and hardly any rewarding critical thinking and the use of reason in forming an opinion about religion.”

The winning essays for the “good without God” contest appear in this issue. The winning batch for the topic of challenges facing “nonbelievers of color” will run in the October issue. Next to be announced: FFRF’s selection of winners of its college essay competition and its graduate student essay competition.

The high school contest is named for William J. Schulz, a Wisconsin member who died at 57, was a chemical engineer and cared deeply about FFRF’s work, leaving a bequest that funds the awards. FFRF also thanks Dean and Dorea Schramm of Florida for providing a $50 bonus to students who are members of a secular student club or the Secular Student Alliance. The total of $17,950 reflects bonuses.

Freedom From Religion Foundation