FFRF awards $17,750 to 2019 high school essay contest winners

2019 High School / College Essay Winners

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is proud to announce the winners of the 2019 William Schulz High School Essay Contest, with $17,750 in scholarship money being awarded this year.

College-bound high school seniors were asked to write an essay based on this prompt: “Why we must rely on ourselves, not God, to solve the world’s problems.” To defend this thesis, they were encouraged to analyze one or two global or personal challenges. After reviewing more than 200 essays, FFRF awarded 10 top prizes and nine honorable mentions. Winners are listed below and include the college or university they’ll be attending, plus the award amount.

First place
Aline Pham, 17, (UC-Irvine) $3,500
Second place
Jacob McGee, 18, (Rollins College, Fla.) $3,000
Third place
Shiv Shah, 18, (Arizona State University) $2,500
Fourth place
Thomas Ballinger, 16, (Washington State University) $2,000
Fifth place
Milo Shields, 17, (Tufts University) $1,500
Sixth place
Zoe Nussbaum, 17, (University of Southern California) $1,000
Seventh place
Madison “Matt” Mastrolia, 18, (Rutgers University-New Brunswick) $750
Eighth place
Samuel Talbott, 18, (Millsaps College, Miss.) $500
Ninth place
Ethan Forde, 18, (Marquette University, Wis.) $400
Tenth place
Katie Scroggs, 18, (University of Rhode Island) $400

Honorable mentions ($200 each)

  • Angeline Ajit, 16, (University of North Texas)
  • Talia Bank, 18, (Macalester College)
  • Alyssa Boynton, 18, (New College of Florida)
  • Kaitlyn Cochenour, 18, (Youngstown State University)
  • Matt Giles, 18, (University of Rochester)
  • Natalyn Groke, 17, (University of Utah)
  • Sofie Iwamasa, 17, (Case Western Reserve University)
  • Ben Keane, 18, (Stanford University)
  • Anna Miller, 18, (Bryn Mawr College)

“We’re proud of the essay winners, and proud of the increasingly secular student population,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “FFRF’s motto is: ‘Freedom depends on freethinkers’ — such young people are an important part of a movement that stands for enlightenment and progress.”

The high school contest is named for the late William J. Schulz, an FFRF Member from Wisconsin who died at 57. He was a mechanical engineer and cared deeply about FFRF’s work, leaving a bequest that funds the awards.

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 of $17,750 reflects these bonuses. FFRF also warmly thanks FFRF “Director of First Impressions” Lisa Treu for managing the infinite details of this and FFRF’s four other annual student competitions. And it couldn’t judge such contests without our “faithful faithless” readers and judges, including: Don Ardell, Linda Aten, Dan Barker, Jeff Brinckman, Bill Dunn, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Dan Kettner, William Keys, Jerry Ryan, Bailey Nachreiner-Mackesey, Lauryn Seering, PJ Slinger, Karinthia Treu, Lisa Treu and Karen Lee Weidig.

FFRF has offered essay competitions to college students since 1979, high school students since 1994 and grad students since 2010. A new contest, open to law students, is debuting this year.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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