Four Avonworth high school students ranked in the top ten of the Atkins Center for Ethics at Carlow University’s annual essay contest. 

The essay contest was open to students in 11th and 12th grade who were required to write 800-1200 thoroughly word essays following the topic “What Can We Post? Free Speech in a Digital World.”


“What Can We Post” was the overarching topic that governed and guided students in writing their contest submissions.


In November,  AP Language and pre-AP literature teacher Mr. Tuiffiash received an email about the competition from Carlow University and found that the topic of free speech in a digital world fit nicely with the curriculum of AP language class as well as some of the Honors 11 curriculum. “I figured it was a great opportunity to build out from classroom discussions and now add a different audience of Carlow professors instead of classmates or me,” said Mr. Tuffiash.


“When else is there a platform that makes sense to discuss Reddit, especially /Roast Me, in my classes? It’s pretty rare,” said Mr. Tuffiash


Students wrote drafts, used class time to research, wrote initial drafts, and completed peer editing before Mr. Tuffiash added edits and return them to students for them to make final corrections. This process took about a month, both inside and outside of class.

Junior Matthew Purcell placed first, winning a $1,500 reward and a decorative plaque, junior Rohini Pillai placed third with a reward of $300 and a plaque, and juniors Colin Crawford and Henry Wagner finished in the top 10, winning $50 each.  

When asked about his greatest struggle writing the first-place essay, Purcell said, “I think I struggled most with figuring out how I felt about the topic myself. There are so many different angles that you can take on this topic, so most of the process was really just me doing research and making decisions about what I believed the best solution would be.”


Purcell and Pillai were invited to Carlow’s Scholar’s Day banquet and award ceremony, which Pillai attended, where she was given the plaque in person by the President of Carlow University.


Pillai took the angle of the government increasing regulations of free speech on the internet. “As someone who wants to pursue computer science as a major in college, these discussions about the role of technology in the real world is something that I am passionate about understanding, ” she said. 

“I’d consider this as one of the best essays I’ve written, mostly because I spent so much time revising it. Honestly, I wouldn’t change any about the process I took – this reaped a victory I never once imagined or intended,” said Pillai. “If I have one piece of advice to people who want to partake in the Carlow essay contest next year, it would be to think outside the box – use ideas that may not necessarily have come up in discussion in class, at school, or even society at large if you can.”

This sentiment seemed to be overwhelming amongst the students who placed. “I do think that this work was my best effort. I really tried hard to make it the best possible essay I could base[d] on my opinion of the prompt,” said Crawford, “One thing that I wish I changed about the process would be exploring others’ opinions to determine if they could influence my own opinion.”

“I do think this work was my best effort, and honestly, I wouldn’t really change anything. I think we had an appropriate amount of time and I think the topic was great!” said Purcell. 

“It’s by far the top of satisfaction as a teacher to be part of student success like this. It’s why I wanted to be a high school English teacher – helping thoughtful people be articulate writers, and most importantly finding their voice in writing – a voice that is articulate, insightful, and true to themselves,” said Mr. Tuffiash. When asked about his thoughts on the contest, he said, “A highlight of my 2021-2022 teaching year.” 

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