The Freedom From Religion Foundation is proud to announce the winners of its 2020 William Schulz High School Essay Contest, to whom it is awarding an unprecedented $26,100 in scholarship money.
College-bound high school seniors were asked to craft an essay based on this prompt: “Write a persuasive, personal essay about why you reject religion and think others would be better off doing so, too. You may wish to include experiences or challenges you have faced as a young freethinker.”
After reviewing 491 essays (a record!), FFRF awarded 15 top prizes and 16 honorable mentions.
Winners are listed below and include the college or university they will be attending and the award amount.
• Arianna Kassatly, 18, Florida State University, $3,500
Second Place (tie)
• Liliana Austin, 18, Brampton University of Ottawa, $3,000
• Jonah Mathisson, 18, University of Michigan, $3,100*
Third Place (tie)
• Kara Curtis, 18, University of Texas at Dallas, $2,500
• Jana Kelly, 18, Brown University, $2,500
• Katherine Gerhardt, 17, University of California-Berkeley, $2,000
• James Tripp Conway, 18, University of Kentucky, $1,600*
• Paris Huckaby, 18, University of Colorado-Boulder, $1,000
Seventh Place (tie)
• Kaitlin Eblen, 18, University of California-Los Angeles, $750
• Arielle Fentress, 18, Cleveland Institute of Music, $750
• Anderson Lynch, 18, Oglethorpe University, $500.
Ninth Place (tie)
• Ahndiya Kiburi, 18, University of California-Davis, $400
• Isaiah Welch-Novels, 18, University of New Haven, $400
Tenth Place (tie)
• Asia Felton, 18, Loyola Marymount University, $300
• Samantha Schwarz, 18, University of California-Los Angeles, $300
Honorable mentions ($200 each)
• Yiping An, 18, Carnegie Mellon University
• Soji Bedsole, 18, Auburn University
• Hailey Cheng, 18, Columbia University*
• Julia Dimov, 18, Appalachian State
• Alan Dupre, 18, Arizona State University
• Brina Howell, 18, Kutztown University
• Adam Johnson, 18, Duke University*
• Sofia Jorgensen, 18, University of Washington
• Sierra Kolodjski, 18, University of Wisconsin-River Falls
• Daisy Martinez, 18, Blinn College
• Harikeshav Narayan, 18, Indiana University-Bloomington
• Alvaro Ortiz, 18, University of California-Berkeley
• Allen Papp, 18, University of Texas at Austin*
• Ashleigh Price, 18, Eastern Illinois University
• Anastazia Rudolph, 18, University of Alaska-Fairbanks
• Melinda Zou, 18, University of California-Berkeley
“The number of compassionate and passionate essays we received from a record number of graduating seniors who reject religion gives great cause for optimism for the future of freethought,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Every single essay entry had value and worth.”
Those who are not named winners are receiving a complimentary digital FFRF membership for a year and are being offered a book or freethought product as a thank-you for entering.
The high school contest is named for the late William J. Schulz, a Wisconsin member and lifelong learner who died at 57 and left a generous bequest to FFRF.
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 $26,100 reflects these bonuses. (An asterisk denotes those who got the additional $100.)
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 the challenges of doing it remotely. And we couldn’t judge these contests without our “faithful faithless” readers and judges, including Linda Aten, Dan Barker, Darrell Barker, Kristina Daleiden, Bill Dunn, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Judi Jacobs, Linda Josheff, Dan Kettner, Kathy Kunz, Gloria Marquardt, Katya Maes, Bailey Nachreiner-Mackesey, Amit Pal, Sue Schuetz, PJ Slinger, Katrina 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 fifth contest, open to law students, began in 2019.