NOTE: This post was originally published on October 18, 2017
In its second year, the ExpressVPN Future of Privacy Scholarship was a huge success. Nearly 2,000 students in the U.S. and UK submitted essays for a shot at $5,000. While we could only pick one winner, everyone at ExpressVPN was impressed by the level of intellect and creativity entrants displayed in their writing.
The students were asked to envision society in 2027 where governments across the world have achieved absolute digital surveillance. Most of the predictions were bleak. There were tales of forced incarcerations, academic censorship, and sanitized social life, not to mention the ominous acronyms for new government agencies with terrifying reach.
However, it was Elizabeth Fijalkiewicz of Chetek, Wisconsin, U.S., who wowed ExpressVPN the most. The 26-year-old graduate student penned a pulse-racing account of a woman venturing into a library to hand off illicit medical research. To read the tale in full, check out the ExpressVPN Future of Privacy Scholarship page.
Meanwhile, six other entrants proved to write incredibly compelling essays that earned them runner-up recognition, along with a free year of ExpressVPN. They are:
- Alexandra Goriounova, University of New Haven, CT, U.S.
- Jessica Allen, University of Oxford, UK
- Peter Upton, Yankton High School, SD, U.S.
- Brogan Gerhart, University of Maryland, MD, U.S.
Applause all around!
Requiem for a nightmare: Q&A with the winner
After her win, scholarship winner Elizabeth took time to answer some of ExpressVPN’s questions about her winning essay. She says the inspiration came from trying to imagine “a worst-case scenario” and then going from there.
”My mind naturally went to the scientists, the scholars, people to which a restriction of flow of information would be most abhorrent.”
As for the scenario of a young woman trying to disseminate critical medical research, she credits her graduate school environment. ”My mind naturally went to the scientists, the scholars, people to which a restriction of flow of information would be most abhorrent,” she explains.
When asked about how the world might avoid the sort of dystopia she describes, Elizabeth suggested proactivity.
“I think the biggest thing people need to do to avoid this type of dystopia is make sure they stay engaged in their government. The already murky waters of internet privacy are not something politicians make as a platform or even something that makes headline news when they pass legislation pertaining to it.”
Given that the essay prompt asked Elizabeth to look toward the future, ExpressVPN was also curious about her thoughts on the past. She says she notices a generational gap in privacy awareness.
“I think my parents’ generation take a more active role in protecting themselves against the potential breaches of personal information that they are aware of. However, I think my generation is much more aware of some of the digital threats to privacy than my parents’ generation, although I do not think that many know how, or actively seek, to fully protect themselves from them.“
That said, Elizabeth admits that being a tech-savvy youth doesn’t grant her total anonymity from online threats.
“For my generation, I think that a lot of the ‘standard’ digital privacy measures are something that are so automatic, and something we have become so accustomed to that I don’t give it a lot of thought. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t know a lot about how online hacking or surveillance work, and I don’t really know how to protect myself better from them.“
A winner with heart
However foreboding her essay may have been, Elizabeth herself is working to make the world a better place. She is currently in a physical therapy graduate program at the University of Minnesota.
After she completes her degree, she plans to help rehabilitate elderly patients. In her own words: “I find working with this population to be exceptionally rewarding and cannot wait to begin my career.”
Congrats again, Elizabeth, and all the best in the future!
Think what Elizabeth wrote was thought-provoking? Consider applying to the ExpressVPN Future of Privacy Scholarship next year! More details to come in the spring.