Winners announced for Penn State Reads essay contest

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — First-year students Daniel Bisi and Olivia Muly have been named the winners of the Penn State Reads essay contest.

The contest challenged students to submit original responses pertaining to “The Circle,” the 2016-17 common book selection by Dave Eggers that features a dystopian society plagued with ethical dilemmas.

“A goal of Penn State Reads is to foster intellectual engagement within and beyond the classroom,” said Jacqueline Edmondson, associate vice president and associate dean for Undergraduate Education. “The essay competition provides students with an opportunity to think deeply about one of the many issues "The Circle" presents to readers, and through writing, to express ideas and opinions about the book.”

Bisi, a freshman studying political science, said when he first started reading the novel, he wasn’t convinced that he would feel connected to it.

“By the end I actually liked it  – that made me want to write [the essay],” he said. “I kind of like dystopian novels – the George Orwell types like ‘1984.’ This is kind of in that mold.”

The focal points of Bisi’s essay were freedom and privacy – both of which are less prevalent in modern society, he said.

“There’s a difference between force and if you want to voluntarily provide the information,” Bisi said. “In the actual novel, you were forced to provide health information and all other types of stuff. In our world, it’s more voluntary – you can either join Twitter or not.”

Muly, a freshman majoring in biology, said “The Circle” made her think twice about everyday uses of technology.

“Everyone uses their phones,” she said. “You can see when people are in conversation they’ll be looking at their phones or not even looking at the person they’re talking with. I can see how that kind of culture is very pervasive.”

In weighing the benefits and drawbacks of what a society reminiscent of “The Circle” could offer in real life, Muly centered her arguments on the medical community. She said implementing technology capable of keeping track of patients could quell problems stemming from accidental deaths.

At the same time, Muly wrote in her essay that non-stop monitoring “reduces the value of your life.”

“If you have no freedom or privacy, you’re not going to have a worthwhile life to begin with,” she said. “ It’s better to risk things than to be safe all the time.”

As part of their prizes for composing the winning essays, Bisi and Muly were given $100 gift cards to the Penn State Bookstore. They were also afforded the opportunity to meet with the author in a private reception last Monday.

Bisi said he was interested in learning about Eggers’ creative approach to writing the novel. Muly, meanwhile, said she enjoyed meeting a famous author “up close and personal.”      

Additional information about Penn State Reads can be found at A full list of Penn State Reads events can be viewed here.

Penn State Reads is run jointly by Penn State Student Affairs and Penn State Undergraduate Education.

Last Updated October 20, 2016