In the case of Sophie Zhao, The Fountainhead essay contest winner, the third time’s the charm. In 2015, Zhao read the Ayn Rand novel for the third time before submitting an entry into this year’s essay contest and was thrilled to be named the winner. A high school junior at Sir Winston Churchill High School in Calgary, Canada, Zhao has always been receptive to the ideas in Rand’s books, and she entered the contest as a personal challenge to herself.

“Reading the book more than once was important,” says Zhao. “The first time, I read more for the excitement of the content than the ideas. To go deeper into the ideas, I had to read it again.”

ARI has held essay contests for students on Ayn Rand’s fiction for decades. The goal is to introduce young people throughout the world to Rand’s revolutionary ideas. For Zhao, many of the moral ideas in the novel confirm ones she’s held for some time. She’s long believed in individualism and valued reason over whims and emotions, so she enjoyed poring over the novel’s themes and exploring them on a deeper level as a contest participant.

Here’s an excerpt from Zhao’s first-place essay in response to the following question:

“Gail Wynand is a brilliant individual who rose out of the slums by means of his own talent and effort. But despite his reverence for man’s noblest achievements, his newspaper, the Banner, presents the most lurid and loathsome values. Why does Wynand pander in this manner?”

Disillusionment Shattered by Sophie Zhao

Gail’s fatal mistake lay in his assumption that integrity was impossible, and that a middle ground could exist between egoism and pandering to the crowd. Such is impossible. Gail gave up his potential and became a second-hander because of this mistaken assumption. Roark proved that true integrity can exist in its purest forms, even in human beings, that one can avoid being crushed by this vulgar and deplorable world, and that there is not a single precarious ladder on which everyone dwells, either above or below each other: it is possible to pave one’s own road in this wonderful existence—to be exalted, not pitied.

Click here to read the first-place essay in its entirety. To learn more about ARI’s essay contests, visit AynRand.org/students.