Congratulations to the Winners of Our National Student Essay Contest!

We are delighted to announce the winners of The First Annual R.E.A.L. ® Discussion National Essay Contest! We invited the thousands of students who have used R.E.A.L.® this year to submit an essay examining the role of face-to-face discussion in a tech-centered, AI-powered, ChatGPT-frenzied world. We noticed shared themes across the many submissions we received — including the uniquely human power of empathy and caring for one another, the importance of critical thinking, and the practical understanding that technology is — for better or worse — here to stay.

While we were thrilled to read each and every essay that crossed our inboxes, two stood out. With congratulations, we highlight the work and words of our Middle School winner: Aiyana Steadman, a 7th grader from Girls Preparatory School in Chattanooga, TN, and our High School winner: Jack Dahler, a 10th grader from Gill St. Bernard’s in Peapack-Gladstone, NJ.

Both essays touched on the necessity of empathy in our daily lives and expressed hesitation about AI’s ability to emulate it.

Aiyana writes: Having face-to-face conversations can actually contribute towards the ability to be empathetic, understanding emotions (especially your own), and handling social situations appropriately.

What a powerful idea — that in-person conversations can help individuals understand not just those with whom they converse, but themselves. AI might be able to provide assistance in multiple diverse areas, but it still falls woefully short in quests of self-understanding.

Likewise, in his essay, Jack poses a question. He writes: AI and technology can make connections easy, but can it make those connections deep and inspirational? Those deep and inspirational connections, Jack argues, are the stuff of life. He puts it beautifully when he writes: As humans, we don’t just read words, we read faces. We read the muscles that move when people speak to us. These muscles tell a story.

At R.E.A.L.® Discussion, we are interested in those stories. Like Aiyana and Jack, we believe that face-to-face conversation is important, inspiring, and teachable — even in a tech-centered world.

Congratulations, Jack and Aiyana. We’re inspired by you!

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