Winning a $10,000 college scholarship for a day’s work is a pretty sweet deal.
But although Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls junior Arianna Samet of Teaneck didn’t spend hours agonizing over her prize-winning essay, the judges at FIRE (that’s the Foundation for Individual Rights Education) clearly felt it stood out from among 2,800 essays submitted by juniors and seniors around the country on the theme of censorship on college campuses.
According to its website, FIRE’s mission is “to defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities.”
Arianna had never heard of FIRE until she came across an ad about the essay contest on a college-prep website recommended by the guidance department at Ma’ayanot.
“While I was researching colleges it came up, and I thought it would be interesting,” she said. “It didn’t take me that long to write the essay. I spent some time thinking about how to approach it and structure it, and then I wrote and sent it in within the day.”
Did she show it to anyone else? “I asked my mother to read it to see if it was coherent,” replied Arianna, who has not yet taken the SAT exam and has not decided to which colleges she will apply. But she hopes to pursue a career connected with politics and journalism.
Her essay, titled “America is The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. But…Are its Universities?” begins by recounting how she first learned to appreciate the value of free speech from her grandparents, who were Holocaust survivors. She segues from that to examples of curtailed free speech 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.”
Ma’ayanot’s principal, Rivka Kahan, said, “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 FIRE essay contest was not the first that Arianna has won.
When she was a seventh-grader at Manhattan Day School, one of her teachers promised extra credit to any student willing to enter the Kaplun Foundation’s “Who is Your Hero?” writing contest. Arianna took the bait, and won the $1,800 first prize for her essay about the good works of Jodi Samuels, her former next-door neighbor on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. This essay beat out more than 300 entries from all over the world.
Arianna claims that she does not write often, but she is on the staff of several Ma’ayanot school publications, as well as its debate and Model Congress teams. And she was accepted into the New York Jewish Week’s Write On For Israel two-year advocacy-training program for high school juniors and seniors.
Arianna is also co-president of MYPAC, the school’s political action committee for Israel. “We bring in speakers and make people aware of how to advocate for Israel,” she said.
Now that she is familiar with FIRE’s mission, Arianna believes that it is vital. “I think it’s very important to help instill in the next generation the value of the Constitution,” she said.
Arianna and her parents and two younger siblings moved to Teaneck last October, and the family belongs to Congregation Bnai Yeshurun there.