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Zooming to Stardom: BRI Essay Winner Plans Bright Future

by Bill of Rights Institute on

If you have ever struggled to keep a straight face during a Zoom meeting, Cynthia Huang can feel your pain. 

Huang is a rising junior at the Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana, CA. 

And she was on a Zoom meeting with her school debate team when she received an email with amazing news. 

Huang had just been named the grand prize winner of the Bill of Rights Institute’s annual We the Students Essay Contest—and she would be taking home the $7,500 grand prize. 

“At first I thought, ‘This has to be a joke,’” Huang admitted. 

When the realization sank in that she had really won, Huang had the difficult task of keeping her emotions in check and finishing her debate meeting. 

“My parents asked me, ‘How could an 800-word essay take you this far?’” Huang said with a laugh, maybe still dealing with a bit of disbelief. “I told them I’m not complaining.” 

You can’t blame Huang (or her parents) for having a moment of shock. Winning this year’s We the Students Essay Contest was truly an impressive task. 

The We the Students Essay Contest is hosted annually by the Bill of Rights Institute and provides students the opportunity to reflect on America’s founding principles and their impact on our lives today.  

For this year’s contest, the Bill of Rights Institute received nearly 4,000 submissions from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico, and students living on United States military bases in Europe and the Pacific Islands. 

Students were asked to consider how an understanding of natural rights and respect helps build a free society. Huang impressed judges with her argument that respect was necessary for citizens to achieve a full realization of their rights. 

“Respect must serve as the bridge between recognizing these natural rights and achieving a free society,” Huang wrote

Huang is a very versatile student who is passionate about creative writing, dance, and history. She’ll also be traveling to Kentucky this summer with her school debate team to participate in a national competition. 

So what does the future hold for Huang? Well, she has time to figure it out—but Huang’s future looks very bright, and you can expect civic engagement to play an important role. 

Huang is passionate about issues like criminal justice reform and women’s rights. She counts among her heroes Patsy Mink, the first Asian-American woman elected to Congress. 

“As a second-generation immigrant, I believe it is my role to be active in American democracy,” Huang said. 

The Bill of Rights Institute also announced that five students were selected as runners-up in the We the Students Essay Contest, and would each be receiving a $1,500 prize:

  • Ishan Chattopadhyay: Mountain View Middle School, Hampden Township, PA
  • Miles Erdly-Liang: Hunter College High School, New York City, NY 
  • Alexander Mahdavian: Ridge High School, Basking Ridge, NJ
  • Margaret Piehl: Platte River Academy, Centennial, CO
  • Hannah Slisher: Rush-Henrietta Senior High School, Henrietta, NY

Congratulations to all of this year’s contest participants!