Think for Yourself Scholarship

Let Grow’s “Think for Yourself” high school essay contest awards $8000 in college scholarships.

This year’s contest received over 5,000 entries. High school students wrote about the value of free speech, curiosity, and open-mindedness in their everyday lives, responding to prompts like:

“Who would you choose to censor what you read?” “When did you stand up — or not — for an unpopular idea?” “Ever learn something good…from a jerk?”

Since we launched the contest in 2018 we have awarded $25,000 in college scholarships. The  winners’ essays have been published in USA Today, The New York Post, The New York Daily News, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New Jersey Ledger, Quilette, and EdWeek.

And the 2021 winners are…


Cherie Fernandes, West Windsor, NJ

The Day I Discovered My Own Prejudice…in My Teenage Book Club” (Published in the NJ Star Ledger)


Nana Afia Boadi-Acheampong, Malden, MA

Madeline Christensen, Puyallup, WA

Daksha Pillai, Lexington, KY, “Why High School Kids Should Read ‘A Clockwork Orange‘ and Other Disturbing Books” (Published in the Lexington Herald-Leader)

Note: We hope this year’s essays will be published in prestigious newspapers and websites, as they have in years past. Until then, we cannot publish their essays here, as news outlets rarely take previously published work.



First Place Winner, $5000 Scholarship:

Danyere Francis, Stratford, Ct: “Texting the Kid Who Assaulted Me.” (Published in the NY Daily News)

Runners Up, $1000 Scholarships

Lola Jean Benjamin, Salem, OR: “Black and White in the Classroom.” (Published in Quillette)

Maggie-Isabel Seabrook, Greenwich, NJ: A Teenager Spends Time with The Breakfast Club.” (Published in the NJ Star Ledger)

Zewditu Nora Herring, Oakland, CA: “When Is A Black Student Not Black?” (Published in the San Francisco Chronicle)

Winners, 2018-2019

Eilise McLaughlin, Tucson, AZ: “A Student’s Plea: Don’t Shield Me from Problematic Conversations.”(Published in Education Week.)

Carter Moore, Anchorage, AK. “A High School Lesson in Seeing Beyond Political Differences.” (Published in The New York Post.)

Madison Scroggins, Decatur, TX. “An Early Lesson in Fighting Political Polarization.” (Published in The New York Daily News.)

Elande Abate, Olathe, KS.

And here are the winning essays from the 2017-2018 contest.

Let Grow will award one $5,000 and three $1,000 college scholarships to U.S. high school students who exemplify independence of thought in their everyday lives.

Past Scholarship Winners

Elande Abate, Olathe, KS

“Sometimes you have a moment and something just hits you, and that’s what happened to me…I was a black girl. He was a white male. Instead of debating, I felt compelled to listen.”

Carter Moore, Anchorage, AK

“The hateful rhetoric surrounding political discussion in our country has gone too far. I have experienced firsthand how it can ruin a relationship.”

Eilise McLaughlin, Tucson, AZ

“The only way to properly form an opinion on an issue is to have all the information. This can sometimes mean being exposed to unpleasant or controversial issues.”

Winning Essays Have Been Published in:

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