University of New Mexico graduate Alexandra Stewart took top honors in the 2015 Elie Wiesel Foundation Prize in Ethics essay contest. She is the first recipient from UNM to win this contest and earned $5,000 in the process.

The annual Ethics Essay Contest was established in 1989, designed to challenge college students to analyze the important ethical issues confronting them in today’s complex world. Students are encouraged to write thought-provoking personal essays that raise questions, single out issues and present rational arguments for ethical action.

Stewart chose a morally challenging situation for the essay, one that involved a close friend, abuse and a broken promise. Much was lost due to her ethical actions, but much was gained as well. In the end, Stewart said she learned an important lesson: the difference between opinion and humanity.

"I was very hesitant to write about the experience at first,” Stewart said. “I didn't want to rob my friend of telling her own story. But at the same time, I recognized that this was something that had happened to me as well, and it was necessary to tell a story that might help others reach out to abused individuals.

"That said, I never actually believed that this particular experience would reach the general public or even win an award. I feel truly humbled that it has achieved both, and I hope, should readers ever find themselves in a similar situation, that they find the strength to make the right decision."

“Today’s college students are listening to the ethical voices within,” said Elie Wiesel. “They are drawing on their memories and the lessons of their teachers, and are concerned with the morality of their private and public experiences. They are challenging us all to make a difference.”

Stewart, Class of 2015, majored in International Studies and minored in Honors interdisciplinary studies. She has research experience in female sexuality, particularly pertaining to Mexican history and the works of Shakespeare, and wants to pursue her Master’s degree in Women's Studies. She is also a nominee for the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships this year.

From Stewart’s essay: “We must understand that, although we operate in separate spheres, humanity as a whole is constantly impacted by the opinions we hold as individuals…if we are unable to put aside our differences to surmount the barriers we have created for ourselves, perhaps we are missing the point of life itself.”

To read the entire essay, visit: The Ethics of Transcendence.

For more information, including suggested essay topics, visit Ethics Essay Contest.