Announcing 2014’s Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest Winner

When Stephanie Aldrich first picked up Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged at age twelve, she never dreamed it would eventually earn her more than $10,000. But that’s exactly what happened.

Aldrich, a graduate student studying neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh, first read Atlas Shrugged in junior high school at her father’s encouraging. Fast forward to present day and she’s participated in ARI’s Atlas Shrugged essay contest for five consecutive years, calling it “a bit of a tradition,” at this point. For Aldrich, the process has not only been personally rewarding but highly lucrative. She has received three second-place awards with prize money totaling $6,000. This year, she took home the grand prize, a $10,000 cash reward.

Beyond that, the contest afforded Aldrich the opportunity to deeply explore the layered themes of Rand’s novel. She confesses she wasn’t equipped to fully understand many of them the first time around, explaining:

“I enjoyed Atlas Shrugged the first time I read it, but once I came back to it years later my understanding of the themes was far superior. Most fiction I’d read held up suffering as a moral ideal. I realize now it’s an ideal that hampers efficiency. It’s a philosophy I apply to my own life.”

Aldrich’s essay addresses the question, “In the novel, James Taggart’s first words are ‘Don’t bother me, don’t bother me, don’t bother me.’ Why is this significant? How do his first words relate to his thoughts and actions throughout the novel?” Read her answer here.

Aldrich also said that the ARI essay contest gave her a forum to develop her critical thinking and writing skills. By participating, she learned the fundamentals in effectively constructing and supporting an argument—something she knows will serve her well in her career as a scientist.

ARI runs three essay contests for students and adults, annually awarding more than $100,000 in prize money for participants. Since 1985, more than 350,000 people from around the world have entered ARI’s essay contests. For more information, visit