2017 Think-Off finalists announced

Four individuals have won $500 and a trip to New York Mills for the Great American Think-Off. In their essays, the finalists presented an argument supporting their response to the question, "Has the 2016 election changed our perception of truth?"...

Four individuals have won $500 and a trip to New York Mills for the Great American Think-Off.

In their essays, the finalists presented an argument supporting their response to the question, "Has the 2016 election changed our perception of truth?"

Two finalists assert that it has changed how the American public sees truth, and two finalists proffer that it has not. The debate among the four armchair philosophers will take place on Saturday, June 10, in the midst of a celebratory 25th anniversary weekend in New York Mills.

The four finalists are Nancy Krier of Olympia, Wash.; Pamela Lewis of Queens, NY; Kris Pauna of Prior Lake, Minn.; and David Shapiro of Seattle, Wash. Krier and Shapiro argued "no," while Pauno and Lewis answered "yes."

Krier is the Washington State Attorney General's Office Open Government Ombuds. She attended Wadena High School, the University of North Dakota, and the University of Washington School of Law. At UND, Krier majored in journalism and political science. She was a reporter before law school and has served as president of both Washington Women Lawyers and the Government Lawyers Bar Association. She is a member of the Washington State Bar Association and is admitted to the U.S. District Courts in Washington and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Krier serves on the Washington State Sunshine Committee while residing in Olympia, Washington, with her husband and son.


Born and raised in Queens, NY, Lewis is the only child of British-Guyanese immigrants who instilled and encouraged her love of art, music, books and flowers. Lewis is a graduate of New York University, where she earned a master of arts degree in French Literature, and for 30 years she taught French at the middle and high school levels until her retirement in 2015. Her new life has made space for writing, and she writes regularly on religious art for The Episcopal New Yorker, Episcopal Journal and other faith-based publications. When not hanging out in museums, concert halls or traveling, Lewis also serves in various lay ministries in her church. She still resides in Queens, where she now hopefully does not disturb her neighbors with her classical guitar practice.

Pauna grew up in Minnesota and graduated from New York Mills High School in 1995. After high school, Pauna attended Moorhead State University where he majored in economics and later attended the University of Minnesota where he attained his MBA. He has worked with several large companies in the Twin Cities where he has held positions in both finance and marketing. When not working, Pauna enjoys raising his four children with his wife Kappy, and spends his free time golfing, debating politics, or reading.

Shapiro is a community college philosophy teacher who also regularly does philosophy with students in elementary and middle-school classrooms. He has entered the Great American Think-Off many times before and was previously a finalist in 2003. This year, as he has done in the past, Shapiro gave his college philosophy class the assignment of entering the Think-Off; he therefore thanks them kindly for inspiring him to submit his own entry, and reiterates his ongoing promise to give any student who wins the Think-Off a 4.0 for the course.

These finalists were chosen by a committee of volunteers who read the essays (with all personal information redacted), ranked them, got together to discuss, and finally, choose the winning essays. Only after making the selections are the writers' personal information revealed. Upon receipt of the finalist bios, the committee was surprised to learn that two of the four finalists are local high school graduates (New York Mills and Wadena), as both are now living in larger cities in different regions of the U.S.

The Great American Think-Off is an exhibition of civil disagreement between powerful ideas that connect to your life at the gut level. The Cultural Center, located in the rural farm and manufacturing town of New York Mills, sponsors this annual philosophy contest. People of all ages are encouraged to participate and attend the live debate.

Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door, and $5 for students. All audience members will have the opportunity to vote in the contest to decide who presents the better argument and earns the title of America's Greatest Thinker for 2017.

For more information, call the Cultural Center at 218-385-3339 or visit To purchase tickets online, visit " target="_blank">

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