29th Annual Great American Think-Off
Philosophy Essay/Debate Contest
Live Debate June 11, 2022

New York Mills, MN—May 1, 2022—The New York Mills Regional Cultural Center is pleased to announce the four finalists for the 2022 Great American Think-Off debate, which will be held on Saturday, June 11, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. in the New York Mills School Auditorium.

The four finalists are (in alphabetical order): Matthew Anderson of Sunnyvale, CA; Dennis Nau of Fergus Falls, MN; Blaine Rada of Darien, IL; and Ronald Stewart of Coon Rapids, MN. These four essayists each win $500 and a weekend trip to New York Mills, MN in June to participate in the live philosophical debate.

During the debate, the finalists will defend their essays, arguing their side of the 2022 Think-Off question:

“Which should be more important: personal choice or social responsibility?” 


The finalists are (in alphabetical order):


Born and raised in Chicagoland, finalist Matthew Anderson grew up on a steady diet of youth sports, piano lessons & Goosebumps books. He studied creative writing at the University of Illinois before beginning a decade-plus long career in tech. He cycles everywhere — rain or shine (or snow). If he is not on his bike, he enjoys playing Gaelic handball, an obscure sport passed down to him by his father. He cheers on Chicago sports teams even when he knows they’ll likely lose. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his fiancée.

Matthew Anderson of Sunnyvale, CA argues that social responsibility should be more important.



Finalist Dennis Nau was born in 1949 and grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis. He attended college at the University of St. Thomas, where he was educated to be an English teacher. He went into machining, instead. Later, he started an industrial sales agency. Still later, Dennis and his wife started a machining business, where they developed a new process for manufacturing a component used for testing in the semi-conductor industry. They sold that business in 2001, and then went into retail, where they developed a new process for losing money, a skill anyone can master. Dennis started writing fiction 20 years ago and has had short stories published in dozens of various literary magazines, as well as a novel, and recently, a collection of short stories. Dennis and his wife Rita now live in Fergus Falls, MN and have two children and six grandchildren.

Dennis Nau of Fergus Falls, MN argues that personal choice should be more important.



Finalist Blaine Rada is an accomplished training professional with over 30 years of experience in the mortgage industry; his focus is on helping organizations rise above the competition. As a member of the National Speakers Association, Blaine has achieved its highest earned designation, the Certified Speaking Professional (CSP). Blaine is a member of Mensa (the high IQ society), but isn’t nearly as smart as that sounds, just ask the people who know him best! He recently became an author, writing about his 500-mile walk across Spain.

Blaine Rada of Darien, IL argues that social responsibility should be more important.



Finalist Ron Stewart is an information security professional at Optum and has worked in information technology jobs for over twenty years. He has been married to his wife, Shannon, for 28 years, and is the proud father to three college-aged daughters: Tierney, Amissa and Galyna. Rounding out his family is a rescue pup, Tanzen. Ron’s interests include movies, storm chasing, softball, and theatre. He lives in Coon Rapids, Minnesota.

Ron Stewart of Coon Rapids, MN argues that personal choice should be more important.


The debate among the four armchair philosophers is on Saturday, June 11, 2022 at 7 p.m. The finalists will be available to meet the public at the Great American Think-Off Kick-Off event the evening of Friday, June 10 at the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center during a Philosophers & Artists Reception from 6-8 p.m. In addition to honoring the Think-Off finalists, the reception will also feature regional visual artists whose work will be on display in the Gallery’s Annual Adult Regional Show. The reception is preceded by a Historical Walking Tour of downtown New York Mills, hosted by the Otter Tail County Historical Society, beginning at 5:30 p.m.

The public is invited to attend the live debate in New York Mills, MN on Saturday, June 11, 2022 @ 7pm, to witness these four armchair philosophers engage in lively civil discourse. Tickets to attend the live debate are $12 in advance, or $15 at the door; students just $5. The debate is held in the NYM High School Auditorium. All audience members get to vote in the contest to help decide who will hold the title of America’s Greatest Thinker for 2022. A reception honoring the finalists and open to all will be held at the Cultural Center immediately following the debate.

COVID safety guidelines continue to be followed at all Cultural Center events. Ticket prices will be refunded if unable to attend due to illness.

For more information or to buy tickets please call the Cultural Center at (218) 385-3339, visit the Center’s website at kulcher.org, or get tickets online at thinkoff2022.bpt.me/.

Finalist Update 5/31/22:

Unfortunately, original finalist Hunter Liguore of Everett, CT is unable to participate in the Think-Off debate due to a family medical emergency. We wish Hunter and her family all the best during this difficult time.

While this was the first time in the history of the Think-Off that a finalist has had to cancel, we have always identified alternates and ask them to be “on call” if needed. We are definitely thankful for this practice, as we were able to quickly contact Dennis Nau of Fergus Falls, MN to step in as a finalist. We are grateful to Dennis for his flexibility and willingness to join the debate!

We would still like to recognize original finalist Hunter Liguore, and will share Hunter’s essay following the debate.

Hunter is the award-winning author of WHOLE WORLD INSIDE NAN’S SOUP (2022 Paterson Prize for Books for Young Readers Winner, 2022 Anna Dewdney Read). Her writing explores interconnectedness with all people, reciprocal relationships with the natural world, and kindness for all, without exception. Hunter holds an MFA in Writing, with related degree work in History. She is a Professor of Writing at Lesley University, Cambridge, MA. Learn more at hunterliguore.org.

Hunter Liguore of Everett, CT  wrote her essay arguing that personal choice should be more important.


About the Great American Think-Off: 

Now in its 29th year, The Great American Think-Off is an exhibition of civil disagreement between powerful ideas being explored by everyday people. Designed to bring philosophy down from the ivory towers of academia and make it accessible for all, the contest has received national acclaim including coverage by C-SPAN, the New York Times, and The Today Show.

The Cultural Center, located in the rural farm and manufacturing town of New York Mills, Minnesota, sponsors this annual philosophy contest and encourages people of all ages and backgrounds to participate. The Cultural Center is a rural hub for creativity, community vitality, and lifelong learning in the arts. Since our incorporation in 1990, we have been passionate about connecting people to artists and rich cultural experiences in rural Minnesota, celebrating the local and being a window to the world.

To get a better sense of the Think-Off, find details, historical information, and a list of the past 28 years of questions and winners on the event website:

Think-Off News Think-Off History Think-Off Media

Buy tickets now to the June 11th debate!

Questions? Call the Cultural Center at (218) 385-3339.