Highlighting the zeitgeist of female empowerment, Madeline Merritts, a junior studying media communication, wrote about the fear she lives with simply by virtue of being a woman. Merritts won second place for her essay, “Afraid":
“Some amazing, strong women have taken stands against verbal sexual abuse by speaking about the subject or making videos about how real it is. But, sadly, I don’t see much of a change in society. We still see victim blaming or hear the phrase ‘boys will be boys’ and I don’t see that ending any time soon.”
A judge commented, “I am very impressed with this essay, particularly since it concludes in under 3 minutes. It packs a lot into a brief essay, and you can relate to the speaker.” Merritts' essay got right to the heart of a problem that almost half of the population has dealt with at some point.
First-prize winner Oscar de Paz wrote about growing up in Chicago with his essay, "After Dinner." By highlighting one experience when de Paz was 13 years old, mistaken for a drug dealer while taking out the garbage for his Lilita, de Paz immerses the listener in his whole adolescent world. The reader can taste “los tomatillos for salsa verde and frijoles for dinner” and hear Lilita “sweeping el comedor y la cocina before [de Paz] was even up getting ready for school in the morning.”
De Paz said that when he spoke to his father about his brief encounter with the police, his father was confused why he’d chosen this topic for his audio essay. “To move it beyond the family context, I think it struck him as interesting that I’d be willing to talk about it,” de Paz said in an interview.
But de Paz wanted to get to the core of how he thinks he was able to become a first-generation college student now pursuing a Ph.D. “Why is it that I’m sitting here as a Ph.D. student with the opportunities that I have, while there are others who weren’t so privileged? That need to "work through and write about it” was one of the driving factors for de Paz.