High School Essay Contest Winner – Yara Elsayed

I am a religious and politically interested female in a small, widely liberal high school. I’ve been involved in countless instances when expressing my views had negative consequences. One memorable incident occurred during a classroom discussion on climate change. I had expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of specific environmental policies. Instead of experiencing a thoughtful debate, I was labeled as “anti-science” and even “irresponsible” by many of my classmates. I felt defeated.   

Another example is when I voiced support for Second Amendment rights during a discussion on gun control. Rather than acknowledging the issue’s complexity, some classmates resorted to personal attacks, questioning my morals for prioritizing freedoms. In both cases, my attempts to contribute to an honest academic discussion were met with condemnation. Attending a small school only magnifies these challenges.  

Challenging prevailing ideologies made me risk ostracization. Without the anonymity of a large school, I felt like an outsider. I was forced to navigate a minefield of ideological groupthink. Having a conservative community would have made me feel like I belong. Conservatism is highly diverse within itself, and I have met very few conservative people within my community (let alone women), so I have not been able to explore that.  

World issues are incredibly nuanced, so I form my own beliefs rather than regurgitating those of my peers. However, the previous incidents led me to question the integrity of my convictions. In those moments, it was tempting to retreat into safety of conformity to avoid further conflict. In a culture that often equates femininity with progressivism, asserting my conservative principles has especially been challenging. My values have been undermined more times than I can count. Eventually, I refused to succumb to self-doubt and instead resolved to delve deeper into my beliefs, reaffirming their validity. Each new piece of information, each debate I engaged in, served as a step toward greater clarity of thought. Rather than allowing myself to be swayed by the opinions of others, I began to enjoy the challenge of critical thinking, learning that growth requires confronting discomfort.  

I realize how essential intellectual diversity is for an enriching education. Battling a majority has led me to gain confidence in my political positions. I recommend viewing such difficult experiences as empowering to conservative women facing similar challenges. A mindset switch has led me to view these instances as essential to further understanding one’s principles. While finding allies in such a polarized environment is difficult, I refuse to suppress my beliefs for conformity. These instances are far too common, and although not avoidable until society becomes tolerant, it is beneficial to continue challenging assumptions despite social adversity. Confronting times of opposition has forced me to examine my beliefs critically. I’ve scrutinized their foundations and refined them in the crucible of debate. I appreciate being challenged and hope not to sacrifice this in my college selection.  

I wish to be surrounded by those who can appreciate different opinions and understand that we all have our political journeys. I seek a university environment where people with differing beliefs can learn from one another. It is crucial to be prepared when encountering others with different views. Professors should strive to maintain such an environment. Naturally, everyone has their own opinions. However, information needs to be presented in a bias-free manner. Bringing personal views to the classroom can undermine intellectual autonomy. Students should be encouraged to form their own opinions based on untainted facts. A professor should clarify their perspective in a way that stimulates critical thinking for students rather than imposing it upon them.  

I have always expressed interest in perspectives different from my own. I feel more empathetic as I’ve developed a thicker skin and learned to welcome various perspectives. I am prepared for a diverse world with an understanding that human experiences are complex, which calls for tolerance and respect. It’s essential to always be authentic and forthcoming with your perspectives and life experiences. Expressing a willingness to learn through my interactions with others has welcomed meaningful connections with others who also demonstrate respect for different values. Collaboration can cross ideological lines, and I encourage anyone who has feared being disliked for their political or religious stance to continue to be themselves. Only through authenticity can we as a society begin to foster a culture of respect for intellectual diversity. 

This essay was written by Yara Elsayed, a student at Middle College High School, for the 2024 NeW Essay Contest.


Intern Spotlight: Jaycee Tyler

We have been so grateful to have Jaycee Tyler on our team this semester as our Spring 2024 Chapters Intern. Jaycee is a senior at


Receive the latest news and alerts from the NeW team.

"(Required)" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.