FIRE’s 2020–2021 Free Speech Essay Contest winners

February 15, 2021

FIRE’s High School Outreach team is delighted to announce the following winners of our 2020–2021 Free Speech Essay Contest — and to publish the first place essay

This year’s prompt asked students to draw on current events, historical examples, personal experiences, or other FIRE resources to pen “a persuasive letter or essay [to] convince your peers that free speech is a better idea than censorship.” Our top submission imagined a letter from early 20th century rabbi Stephen S. Wise to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Without further ado… the winners are:

Maxwell Kearney

First Place – $10,000 Scholarship

Thousand Oaks, Calif.

(Scroll or click to read his essay in full.)


Second Place – $5,000 Scholarship

  • Sami Al-Asady – Ironwood High School

Glendale, Ariz.

Sami Al-Asady
Jenna Smith

Third Place – (3) $1,000 Scholarships

  • Salome Augusto – Stone Bridge High School

Ashburn, Va. 

  • Jenna Smith – Kent Place School

Scotch Plains, N.J. 

  • Margaret Ludwig – Mat-Su Career and Technical High School

Wasilla, Alaska

Runners-Up – (4) $500 Scholarships

  • Olivia Rodgers – Quincy Senior High School

Quincy, Ill.

  • Deepa Rao – James Madison High School

Vienna, Va.

  • Lily Cain – Northwestern High School

Poplar, Wis.

  • Anjana Peddireddi – Centerville High School

Dayton, Ohio 

Maxwell Kearney 2021 Essay Contest Winner

Thanks to everyone who entered this year. We received nearly 3,000 entries from across the entire country and enjoyed reading so many different takes on why free speech is a better idea than censorship. We’ll be publishing more of the winning essays, so keep an eye out for those. Rising juniors and seniors can enter again when we reopen the essay contest for the 2021–2022 school year in September.