Arianna Samet, a junior at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, won the top prize in the prestigious FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights Education) essay contest for her essay titled, “America Is the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. But…Are Its Universities?” The essay, which movingly recounts how Arianna first learned to appreciate the value of free speech from her grandparents, who were Holocaust survivors, cites numerous examples of speech being limited on college campuses and concludes that “college is a place for young adults to discover themselves through exposure to a diverse culture and opinion pool.... Freedom of speech is essential for them to have this opportunity.”
According to its website, FIRE’s mission is “to defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities.” This particular essay contest was part of FIRE’s “Know Before You Go” initiative, “which [was] intended to alert students to the threat of censorship before they get to campus.”
Samet’s essay took first place from among over 2500 essays submitted by juniors and seniors around the country. She will receive a $10,000 college scholarship as her prize for taking first place in this contest.
Samet first became aware of the FIRE essay contest on a recent day off while perusing Naviance, the software provider utilized by Ma’ayanot to streamline the college application process. While on Naviance, Samet came across a video that highlighted an egregious example of free speech being limited on a college campus. With her interest piqued, Samet continued to research this issue and eventually came across the FIRE essay contest. Engrossed in the topic, Samet both researched and wrote the first draft of the essay all in one day.
When asked about her reaction to receiving the news that she had won first prize, Samet recounted that she was “shocked and very surprised, but also very proud.” She explained that recognition of this essay was especially meaningful because it was on a topic that “really mattered a lot to my grandparents, and they taught me to care about this issue as well.”
Elana Flaumenhaft, Assistant Principal for Student Life, is more than just proud of Samet’s accomplishment, but also sees the essay as providing an excellent example for the entire Ma’ayanot student body of how to advocate for one’s strongly held beliefs. “What better way to teach the power of advocacy than to bring a strong and now nationally recognized example of student advocacy from within our own student body,” exclaimed Ms. Flaumenhaft.
Mrs. Rivka Kahan, Ma’ayanot’s Principal, concurred and went on to say, “We are so proud of Arianna’s work for its intellectual rigor and insight, but even more so because it demonstrates her understanding of the intersection between the personal and the intellectual, and her commitment to researching and taking a stand on the important issues of our society.”
The full essay can be read on the FIRE website.