Third place (tie) — High school essay contest: Kara Curtis

Kara Curtis

Attempting to pave the way for tolerance

FFRF awarded Kara $2,500.

By Kara Curtis

I was raised atheist in rural Texas. In middle school, I passed 15 crosses in my eight-period day — on bookshelves, teachers’ desks, or by the door as students walked into class. Half of all the school gossip started with “last night at church.” We closed our school choir concerts with “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.” People forget, especially in places as insular as my little town, that anyone could not believe what they do. I do my best to be vocal about my atheism because I truly believe that I can make a difference. When people are used to everyone sharing their religious views, sometimes all it takes is a reminder that people believe other things to open the way for sensitivity and understanding.

As the valedictorian of my graduating class, I like to think I serve as a pretty big reminder. One of my friends, a confirmed Christian and regular church-goer, refused to open our graduation with a prayer. She told me she didn’t want to make people who didn’t share her religious views uncomfortable. As the only non-Christian she knows, I feel pretty confident taking credit for that. (I admittedly have the privilege to change people’s attitudes and perspectives as a white born-and-bred country girl that the Muslim girl two grades below me who moved into my town last year does not.)

I am an unabashed atheist in an attempt to pave the way for religious tolerance in a town that is used to tolerating only one religion. I am an unabashed atheist not because I hate my community, but because I love it so much. I want them to see that there can be people among them who don’t believe what they do, and they are still people worthy of respect and kindness. I’m an atheist because I just find no evidence pointing to a higher power. I’m an unabashed atheist because I hope that every day I am unabashed, I make things just a little bit easier for the person who comes after me.

Kara, 18, is from Gunter, Texas and will be attending the University of Texas at Dallas, where she plans to study international political economy. She was her school’s valedictorian and a National Merit Commended Student. She volunteered in Panama, worked with dog rescue organizations and started a nonprofit centered around opera called Opera Teens. In high school, she was in the all-state choir, captain of the golf team, founded and led several academic teams and worked with Spanish-speaking English Second Language students.