DOBSON — A Surry Early College High School of Design super senior is described in almost sports-like metaphors after being one of 10 who finished third in the international Ayn Rand Institute’s Fountainhead Essay Contest. The effort netted Taylor Gabbey $1,000, which she plans to put aside for college expenses.
“She is just exceptional,” said Surry Community College instructor Lowanda Badgett, who has served as senior project advisor for Gabbey. “For 30 years as I taught school in Surry County I’ve had many enter this contest and never heard back. Here she enters with me saying her essay was really good, but it was a tough competition. It just goes to show when Taylor enters a competition she wins. In terms of technical ability she is by far the best I’ve ever worked with. She is technically perfect.”
Gabbey’s other wins included receiving the Scholastic Gold Key Award and being only one of five in the state to be named to the American Voices Award. She said she had read some of Rand’s books including “Fountainhead” prior to the essay contest.
“The contest was done totally online and I found it by chance,” recalled Gabbey. She said she had entered an essay contest on Rand’s work “Anthem” her sophomore year but did not win it. This contest gave participants a choice of comparing characters or aspects of “Fountainhead.”
The 1940s work brought Rand both critical and financial success. The Fountainhead’s protagonist, Howard Roark, is an individualistic young architect who chooses to struggle in obscurity rather than compromise his artistic and personal vision. Critics have written that Roark is Rand’s embodiment of the human spirit, and his struggle represents the triumph of individualism over collectivism.
“The book was so complex,” Gabbey said. “Rand left Russia after WWII so all of her books are solely focused on the individual. The way she conveys the characters is brilliant. Usually I read a book in three days. It took me a month to read ‘Fountainhead.’ I can agree with some of her viewpoints but not others. I think that is another wonderful thing about her work. I can still learn and respect her viewpoint even if I don’t agree with it.”
Gabbey recalled reading last year’s winning entry on the website and marveling at it. She said she felt the entry, which was from a home-schooled teen in the Ukraine, was incredible and the work of a super genius.
“I was three paragraphs into my essay and I said no way,” said Gabbey. “I rewrote it four times and ran it by all my teachers who said it was good. I said I’ll send it and see what happens.” She was told it was a long process and finally received word on July 20 by email. It was 9 a.m. in the morning when she saw the folder from the institute on the screen saying it had good news.
“I’m so thrilled. I’m putting 90 percent of the $1,000 in an account for when I’m a super senior in college,” said Gabbey. She said reading Rand’s work has fueled her desire to re-examine her writing. She said she could tell Rand was not going to change her writing for anybody in an atmosphere where many do not get published without “slaving to the masses.” She has completed a science fiction inspired novel as part of her senior project titled “Earth and Wind” and is preparing to do a presentation on it.
“Every time I write I try to do something different. You have to explain science fiction. It (the novel) turned out so good. I really like it. My favorite quote from Rand is writers are made not born. I believe if you’re passionate about something you can do it. Anyone can be a writer if they can feel a story as much as they possibly can.”
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.