FFRF awards $19,050 to 2023 high school essay winners who are ‘Nones’

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is proud to announce the winners of the 2023 William Schulz High School Essay Contest, with $19,050 in scholarship money for this year’s competition.

College-bound high school seniors were asked to write a personal persuasive essay based on this prompt: “As a member of Gen Z, describe your experiences growing up or becoming a ‘None,’ explain why you reject religion, and how the growth of the religiously unaffiliated is a positive development for progress.”

Out of 234 entries, FFRF awarded 12 top prizes and 12 honorable mentions. Winners are listed below and include the college or university they are now attending and the award amount.

First Place
Michelle Liao, 18, University of Michigan, $3,500.
Second Place
Jacob Williams, 18, Rice University, $3,000.
Third Place
Claire Kim, 19, Northwestern University, $2,500.
Fourth Place
Jessica Cheng, 18, University of California – Davis, $2,000.
Fifth Place
Maggie Davis, 19, Colorado College, $1,500.
Sixth Place (tie)
Jeremy Carbo, 18, Fordham University, $1,000.
Kamali Jangha, 18, Spelman College, $1,000.
Seventh Place
Andrew Christy, 18, University of Florida, $750.
Eighth Place
Evan Weinraub, 18, Michigan State University, $500.
Ninth Place (tie)
Nolan Booth, 18, Wayne State University, $400.
Timothy Hill, 18, Valencia College, $400.
Tenth Place
Marina Bardon, 18, Kenyon College, $300.
Honorable mentions ($200 each)
Manveen Bhela, 17, University of British Columbia.
Owen Blumenfeld, 18, Pennsylvania State University-Altoona.
Gillian Boudreau, 19, Montclair State University.
Cathryn Bennie, 19, University of Michigan.
Ethelea Caldwell, 19, Texas Christian University.
Layla Gardner, 18, University of Pennsylvania.
Carlos Lazo, 18, Northwestern University.
Riley Mulhollan, 18, Florida State University.
Emelie Nguyen, 18, Brown University.
Laura Towner, 18, University of Georgia.
Isabel Williams, 18, Michigan Tech.

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 also warmly thanks FFRF’s Lisa Treu for managing the infinite details of this and FFRF’s other annual student competitions. And we couldn’t judge these contests without our volunteer and staff readers and judges, including: Danielle Acker, Don Ardell, Dan Barker, Bill Dunn, David Chivers, Kate Garmise, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Richard Grimes, Ricki Grunberg, Linda Josheff, Dan Kettner, Brianna Knoppow, Sammi Lawrence, Gloria Marquardt, Brent Messer, Andrea Osburne, Sue Schuetz, PJ Slinger and Chance Wimberley.

“We are delighted that so many Gen Z’ers are among the growing ranks of the ‘Nones’ — atheists, agnostics or nothing in particular,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Gaylor. “And rewarding freethinking students — the future of our crucial secular movement — is one of the most important projects FFRF undertakes.”

FFRF has offered essay competitions to college students since 1979, high school students since 1994, grad students since 2010 and one dedicated to students of color since 2016. A fifth contest, open to law students, began in 2019.

Detailed bios and full essays by the winning students will appear in the October issue of Freethought Today, FFRF’s lively 24-page (almost) monthly newspaper.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members across the country. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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Freedom From Religion Foundation

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