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FIRE's High School Essay Contest: How Are Last Year's Winners Doing?

Submissions for FIRE's 2009 "Freedom in Academia" essay contest for high school seniors are already coming in. One first-place winner will receive $5,000, two second-place winners will receive $2,500, and five runners-up will receive $1,000 scholarships in Fall 2010. Let's take a moment to look at how last year's winners are making use of their scholarships.

Last month I highlighted the fact that the 2008 "Freedom in Academia" high school essay contest winner, Laura Fitzpatrick, was using her scholarship to attend Mt. Holyoke College. Out of the 1,500 submissions from high school students across the country, Matt Hancock and Steven Zavala were second- and third-place respectively. For the 2008 contest, students were asked to watch two FIRE videos, FIRE on Campus: An Introduction to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and FIRE in Action: Valdosta State University, and discuss how the institutions portrayed in the films have betrayed the purpose of a university and violated the constitutional rights of their students.

In his essay, "Freedom of Speech: 'Knowledge in the Making'," Matt wrote,

A college campus, of all places, should be the first to protect and promote the freedom of expression essential to a democracy, but not all do; some limit expression and expel students for engaging in political and social protests. These institutions replace freedom of discourse with censorship.


Today's students will be tomorrow's leaders, and if colleges teach them to blindly obey and follow what is "accepted," that will be tomorrow's leadership. America wasn't founded by blindly following the majority; it was founded on expressing individual beliefs and speaking out against injustice. Colleges need to foster these rights and uphold democracy.

In his essay, "Learning to Think Through Free Speech," Steven wrote,

...[P]rotecting students from being confronted with ideas and beliefs that they find offensive is preventing them from receiving the deeper character building education that is a university's unparalleled offering.


An environment under an authority like this makes the pursuit of knowledge an absurd task, since it is impossible to know just how much information has been collected by isolated individuals on campus that has not been communicated to others because of the fear of censorship due to perceived offensiveness.

This semester, Matt started classes at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, where he's considering double-majoring in Chemistry and Biology and going on to medical school. Following that, he'd like to work as a medical doctor in Africa. Steven has enrolled in Full Sail University's game development program. Upon graduation he hopes to work for a game developer and eventually establish his own independent game studio.

High school seniors interested in applying for FIRE's 2009 "Freedom in Academia" essay contest should check out this year's rules and regulations on the contest page. One first-place winner will receive $5,000, two second-place winners will receive $2,500, and five runners-up will receive $1,000 scholarships in Fall 2010.

Essays can be submitted online here, via e-mail to, or via "snail mail" to:

Attn: Essay Scholarship Contest
601 Walnut Street, Suite 510
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Deadline for entry is November 6, 2009.

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