June 1 – The competition was fierce, but at the end two essays rose above the rest to win the 2015 Aaron Swartz Scholarship. I’d like to give a big congratulations to Justin Camden and Tara Clifford. They both made strong arguments as to why Swartz was justified in his actions to free information that never should have been locked up. Both took a slightly different approach to reach the end goal, but both were compelling reads. We thank all the scholarship participants for making our 2015 a great success for the second year in a row. Look out for 2016 offering later this summer.


May 19 – It look longer than anticipated to review all the entries, but we’ve narrowed down the essays to the ten finalists for the Aaron Swartz Scholarship. There were a lot of great essays, but the thoughts and analysis from these candidates stood out from the rest. We’ll post each of the essays in the coming days to allow you to evaluate the competition. We expect to announce the winner by month’s end.

> Justin Camden
> Michael Howard
> Paige Clayton
> Robert Paul
> Alyssa Hall
> Tyrece Simas
> Blake Echt
> Erika Nilsson
> Tara Clifford
> Maryum Khazree


May 4 – Thank you to all the participants of the 2015 Aaron Swartz Scholarship. We received 103 essays for consideration. We will be reviewing each essay over the coming weeks and will post the finalist essays around May 15. From there, we will pare those down to the winner about a week later. Stay tuned for updates.


Aaron Swartz is a fascinating mind that left us much too early. At 14, he co-authored RSS which enables publishers to syndicate data automatically. He was an early architect of Creative Commons and co-founded the social news website Reddit. What he accomplished as a programmer by the age of 26 is truly astounding, and he will go down as one of the key architects of the modern Internet.

Swartz was also involved in Internet Hacktivism. Hactivists break into computer networks to further political goals like human rights, free speech and information ethics. Hacktivists see their efforts as an act of protest or civil disobedience. This hacktivist streak seems to be Swartz ultimate undoing. In 2009, he released millions of U.S. federal court documents online which was investigated by the FBI, but no charges were filed. The results were different when he breached MIT’s systems, releasing 1200 scientific and literary journals from JSTOR. He would be arrested and charged with two counts of wire fraud and eleven violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. If convicted, Swartz faced a maximum fine of $1 million and 35 years in prison.

He declined a plea deal that included a six-month prison sentence and would have admitted he was a felon. Swartz committed suicide by hanging two days later.

As frequent users of Reddit and managers of the Google Penalties subreddit, we wanted to use the second annual Vandelay Web Scholarship to shine a light on this remarkable individual, and ask was Swartz right to try to release this information to the public (if that was even his true intention), or did his actions deserve to be prosecuted under the existing cyber crime laws? You can feel free to explore other high profile data leak cases, such as WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations, to define if lines exist between justifiable, ethical hacking and outright cyber crime. Explore where the boundaries of free speech lie in the digital age, and how our current copyright system contributes to this conversation. Take a stand either for or against, building a solid argument supporting your cause. Get creative with your responses. Essays should be between 1000 and 2000 words. Essays that fall outside of this range or are off topic will not be considered.

For more on Aaron Swartz life, feel free to view the riveting documentary The Internet’s Own Boy on YouTube below.

Essay participants should be:

> At least 16 years of age at the time of entry.
> Currently enrolled as a senior in high school or as a student in a college, university, technical or trade school located in the United States or Canada.
> Must be a United States or Canadian citizen or hold a current student visa.
> Graduate students are eligible to apply.

Only one essay per applicant will be considered. Winners of the 2014 scholarship are not eligible to apply. The application deadline is Friday, May 1, 2015. Please submit entries below or use our contact form if you have any questions.

[contact_form name=”scholarship” ]

Students agree that on submission essays will become property of Vandelay Web. Essays with the entrants name and biographical description will be used on vandelayweb.com as well as in any promotional efforts concerning the Vandelay Web scholarship program. Email addresses will only be used to contact students with updates regarding their status in the Aaron Swartz Scholarship.

Image: Ragesoss on Wikicommons