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Quaker Valley senior a finalist in 2012 'Atlas Shrugged' essay contest

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Josh Szymanski

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By Joanne Barron
Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012, 6:32 p.m.

Josh Szymanski already was a fan of Ayn Rand, so when he found out there was an essay contest focusing on the Russian-American philosopher and novelist, he immediately entered.

His knowledge of the author and her books paid off.

Szymanski, a Quaker Valley High School senior, was chosen as one of 25 finalists winning $100 in the Ayn Rand Institute's 2012 “Atlas Shrugged” essay contest.

His essay was chosen for an award from 1,900 entries from all over the world, said Jason Eriksen, contest coordinator.

Winners, most of whom are college students, are awarded a total of $100,000 in cash each year.

The first-place winner received $10,000. Other awards were: three second-place $2,000 awards; five third-place $1,000 awards; 25 $100 finalists and 50 $50 semifinalists.

The Ayn Rand Institute, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Irvin, Calif., has been running contests since 1985. A panel of judges evaluates each paper.

Winners are determined through a four-stage judging process. Szymanski's paper was reviewed independently by six different judges.

“We don't receive feedback from our judges on individual papers, but to achieve the rank of finalist, a paper has to be well written, demonstrate a sound understanding of the novel and its themes and provide strong critical analysis,” Eriksen said.

Szymanski, son of Stanley and Cindy Szymanski of Bell Acres, said he found out about the contest when researching scholarships.

“It drew me in. I already read the book, and I'm very interested in her philosophy of objectivism,” he said.

The philosophy deals with individual freedoms and the importance of the individual as opposed to collective groups.

“Atlas Shrugged,” first published in the United States in 1957 and Rand's last book, communicates that philosophy. Szymanski said he came across “Atlas Shrugged” when he was searching for books to read.

The story is set in the near future during difficult economic times in America.

The major means of transportation are the railroad lines. One of the main characters, Dagny Taggart, is the operating vice president of a giant railroad company who sees society collapse around her as the government increasingly asserts control over all industry.

The book explores a dystopian United States, where many of society's most productive citizens, led by John Galt, refuse to be exploited by increasing taxation and government regulations and go on strike.

Szymanski said those entering the contest could choose from several different essay questions. He chose to pick a scene that was the most meaningful to him and analyze it in terms of the wider themes in the book.

The scene he chose came late in the book when Galt takes control of a national radio broadcast to deliver a long speech to the people serving to explain the novel's theme and Rand's philosophy of objectivism.

Szymanski references the reactions to the speech and how some deny the reality of what was said.

“They try to pretend that what he was saying didn't apply to them. It was a good contrast,” he said.

Szymanski, who is a member of the Quaker Valley track and cross country teams, said he is not sure which college he will attend when he graduates, but he wants to choose a major relating to game development or computer science.

According to the website,, the institute works to introduce young people to Rand's novels; to support scholarship and research based on her ideas, and to promote the principles of reason, rational self-interest, individual rights and laissez-faire capitalism to the widest possible audience.

The essay contest originally was offered for Ayn Rand's novel, “The Fountainhead,” and later expanded to cover her other novels, including “Anthem,” and “We the Living.”

To find out more, visit

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

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