Freedom from religion foundation, Inc | Subscribe
Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Winners of FFRF’s college essay contest

Essay contests

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is proud to announce the 10 winners and eight honorable mentions of the 2020 Michael Hakeem Memorial Essay Contest for Ongoing College. FFRF has paid out a total of $17,050 in award money to this year’s college contest winners.

Ongoing college students up to the age of 24 were asked to write a personal persuasive essay on the topic of “How Religion Divides Us and Secularism Unites Us.” 

This contest is named for the late Michael Hakeem, a sociology professor who was an FFRF board chair and active atheist known by generations of University of Wisconsin-Madison students for fine-tuning their reasoning skills. His bequest has been used to fund college essays since his death in 2006.

Winners, their ages, the colleges or universities they are attending and the award amounts are listed below, and winning essays are reprinted or excerpted in this issue.

First place

Ryan Rindels, 18, University of New 

Mexico, $3,500.

Second place

Meredith Corda, 21, University of

California Berkeley, $3,000.

Third place

Belinda Becker-Jacob, 19, University of

Denver, $2,500.

Fourth Place

Lindsey Bridges, 23, University of

Central Florida, $2,000.

Fifth place

Madeline Kumagai, 23, Clovis

Community College (California),


Sixth place (Mr. Madison Arnold Award)

Nikola Velimirovic, 21, University of 

Nevada-Las Vegas, $1,000.

Seventh place

Sarah Nicell, 19, Franklin & Marshall 

College (Pennsylvania), $750.

Eighth place

Keara Hayes, 19, Michigan State

University, $500.

Ninth place

Angelique Robinson, 18, Florida State

University, $400.

Tenth place 

Samantha Gregory, 19, Florida State

University, $300.

Honorable mentions ($200 each)

Stephanie Clavijo, 23, University of California-Davis

Kennedy Coates, 21, Agnes Scott College (Georgia)

Michale Fite, 19, University of San Francisco

Ellie McDonald, 18, University of Colorado-Boulder

Eveliina Niva, 20, University of California

Yassmine Ramadan, 19, Minerva University (California)

Lauren Rickard, 19, University of Texas-Arlington

Olivia Sato, 19, Northeastern University

FFRF also thanks “Director of First Impressions” Lisa Treu for managing the details of this and FFRF’s other student essays competitions. And we couldn’t judge these contests without our “faithful faithless” volunteer and staff readers and judges, including: 

Don Ardell, Dan Barker, Darrell Barker, Bill Dunn, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Linda Josheff, Dan Kettner, Sammi Lawrence, Katya Maes, Gloria Marquardt, Amit Pal, Dave Petrashek, Sue Schuetz, Lauryn Seering, PJ Slinger, Karen Lee Weidig and Jenny Siklos Wilson.

FFRF has offered essay competitions to college students since 1979, high school students since 1994, grad students since 2010, one for students of color since 2016 and a fifth contest for law students since 2019. All contests are open to any students attending a school in North America who meet the age/grade level eligibility, except the students of color contest, which is reserved for students of color to offer special support for a minority within a minority.

FFRF will be announcing the winners of the students of color contest and grad contest in upcoming issues of Freethought Today.