Winners of the 2019 Michael Hakeem Memorial Essay Contest for Ongoing College Students

This contest is now closed, winners will be updated shortly. Please return in the Spring of 2020 for updated scholarship information.


First Place Prize: $3,500
Second Place Award: $3,000
Third Place Award: $2,500
Fourth Place Award: $2,000
Fifth Place Award: $1,500
Sixth Place Award: $1,000
Seventh Place Award: $750
Eighth Place Award: $500
Ninth Place Award: $400
Tenth Place Award: $300
Optional Honorable Mention(s): $200

2019 College Essay Winners

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is proud to announce the 16 winners of the 2019 Michael Hakeem Memorial College Essay Contest.

College students were asked to write a personal persuasive essay on the topic of why we’d be better off concentrating on the here and now rather than worrying about an unknown afterlife and why they agree with John Lennon that there is “no hell below us, above us only sky.” FFRF thanks Professor Phil Zuckerman of Pitzer College for the essay prompt.

Winners are listed below and include their age, the college or university they are attending and the award amount. FFRF has paid out a total of $17,550 in award money this year for this contest. FFRF thanks Dean and Dorea Schramm of Florida for providing a $100 bonus to students who are members of a secular student club or the Secular Student Alliance. The total reflects those bonuses.

This contest is named for the late Michael Hakeem, a sociology professor who was an FFRF board chair and active atheist known by generations of University of Wisconsin-Madison students for fine-tuning their reasoning skills.

FFRF thanks “Director of First Impressions” Lisa Treu for managing the details of this and the four other student essays competitions. And we couldn’t judge these contests without our “faithful faithless” volunteer and staff readers and judges, including: Don Ardell, Linda Aten, Dan Barker, Jeff Brinckman, Bill Dunn, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Judi Jacobs, Linda Josheff, Dan Kettner, Kathy Kunz, Katya Maes, Gloria Marquadt, Bailey Nachreiner-Mackesey, Dave Petrashek, Sue Schuetz, Lauryn Seering and PJ Slinger.

FFRF has offered essay competitions to college students since 1979, high school students since 1994, grad students since 2010 and persons of color since 2016. A fifth contest for law students debuts this year.

First place
Jack Buchanan, 20, University of Iowa, $3,600.
Second place
Blake Miller, 23, IUPUI, $3,100.
Third place
Alexis Gabbart, 22, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, $2,500.
Fourth place
Kaitlyn Hunt, 24, Coastal Carolina, $2,100.
Fifth place
Danielle Kyle, 21, Western Illinois University, $1,600.
Sixth place
Isaac Jay Marcoux, 20, University of Tennessee, $1,100.
Seventh place
Dylan Mitchell, 20, Guilford College, $750.
Eighth place
Cora Womble-Miesner, 23, New York University, $500.
Ninth place
Hazel Peterson, 19, University of Wisconsin-Stout, $400.
Tenth place
Paige Nielsen, 19, Florida State University, $300.

Honorable mentions ($200 each)

Max Bisaha, 20, College of Charleston.
Alice Blesi, 22, University of Minnesota.
Devon Gable, 20, Front Range Community College.
Yaffa Gani, 19, University of Florida.
Youssef Maklad, 20, Southeastern Connecticut State University.
Kyle Morse, 22, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Freedom From Religion Foundation