"No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place." — Maya Angelou

"You can never plan the future by the past." —Edmund Burke

Congratulations to Our 2011 Essay Contest Winners

First Place: Bridget Kernan, Our Lady of Mercy High School (essay)

Second Place: Brianna Gammons, Webster Thomas High School (essay)

Second Place: Michal Norry, Brighton High School (essay)

Third Place: Virginia Barrera, Our Lady of Mercy High School (essay)

Third Place: Austin Galovski, Pittsford Mendon High School (essay)

Third Place: Tess Klibanoff, Pittsford Mendon High School (essay)

Essay Contest 2010-2011

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This year we received 389 essays from 10 schools. This includes three new schools (McQuaid, School of the Arts, and Webster Schroeder) and three new teachers at schools that have been participating.

The 1st place winner is from Our Lady of Mercy. She will receive $100 and the plaque to display at the school. The two 2nd place winners are from Webster Thomas and Brighton. They will each receive $50. The three 3rd place winners are from Our Lady of Mercy and Pittsford Mendon. They will each receive a certificate. In addition there are 24 finalists who will receive certificates, 50 semi-finalists, and 67 honorable mentions.

Thanks to all of our dedicated essay readers.

The competition is open to all eleventh grade high school students in the greater Rochester area. We believe that participating in the contest helps develop critical thinking and writing skills. These skills are critical to success in the college application essay, as well as for the Regents English exam.

We will award a first prize of $100 in cash, and two second place prizes of $50 each; we will also designate an unlimited number of finalists, semi-finalists and honorable mentions, depending on the quality of submissions. In past years, up to 40% of the entrants have been so designated. In addition, if the first prize winner is accepted by and chooses to attend Cornell, the Club will increase the award to a total of $1,000 during the winner's sophomore year. Similarly, if any second prize winner attends Cornell, that award will be increased to $500.

The Cornell Club of Rochester offers the prize; winning or placing favorably in the essay contest in no way implies a favorable admission decision by any of Cornell's seven undergraduate colleges. But we also know from the past years of the competition that every essayist designated as a semi-finalist or higher has been accepted to at least one highly selective college!

In early to mid May, we will notify the winners and send a list of finalists, semi-finalists, and honorable mentions to the participating teachers. The winning essays will be posted on this website after the winners have been notified. 


One of the most important skills that you will continue to develop during the balance of your high school years and in college is the ability to thoughtfully evaluate opposing viewpoints — in other words, to think critically. This skill is important not only for students and scholars, but also for nearly every occupation you might choose, as well as for your personal mental growth and maturity.

The Rules

  1. Select one of the 7 quotation pairs listed below. Here's a hint to keep you on a successful track: Before you start to draft your essay, go over all of the quotations. Think about them. Try to come up with a word or phrase that captures the essence of each pair of quotations.
  2. Pick one of the quotes in the pair you selected and write an essay of no more than 1000 words that supports that quote or demonstrates the relevance of the quote to life.
  3. There are no limits to the range of your responses, but they should imaginatively reflect your own experiences -- from reading, school, people you've met, extracurricular achievements (or failures), jobs, travel, family dinner discussions, etc.  Your essay should give the reader a sense of who you are and why you believe the quote is true.
  4. Then, on a separate page of the same document, use the opposing quotation and outline a half-dozen or so key points to rebut the case you have just made in your essay. This should take no more than a page.
  5. Finally, on a separate page at the end of the same document include:
    1. Your name
    2. Your parents’ or guardians’ names
    3. Your home address, telephone number, and email address where we may contact you
    4. The name of your school
    5. The name of your English teacher with his/her school phone number and email address

  6. Please do not include any identifying information (your name, your teacher's name, etc.) on any page other than the last page.
  7. All entries must be in Microsoft Word (.docx, .doc, .rtf or .wps) format or text (.txt) format. Please double-space your essay.
  8. Submit your essay as a single email attachment to the following email address: CornellEssayContest@gmail.com
  9. All entries must be e-marked no later than January 31, 2011.
  10. Due to the large volume of essays we receive, we cannot send emails confirming receipt of individual essays.

Quotation Pairs

  1. "Comedy is an ability to observe and see what’s funny in a situation and be able to forget yourself enough to do it." (Madeline Kahn)

    "The whole object of comedy is to be yourself and the closer you get to that, the funnier you will be." (Jerry Seinfeld)
  2. "There is no truth existing which I fear, or would wish unknown to the whole world." (Thomas Jefferson)
    "There are truths which are not for all men, nor for all time." (Voltaire)
  3. "The early bird gets the worm" (Benjamin Franklin)
    "The early worm gets eaten." (Norman Augustine)

  4. "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science." (Albert Einstein, What I Believe)
    "To understand God’s thoughts we must study statistics, for these are the measure of his purpose." (Florence Nightingale)

  5. "Beneath the rule of men entirely great the pen is mightier than the sword." (Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Richelieu, 1838 II, ii)
    "In war there is no substitute for victory. … Whoever said the pen is mightier than the sword never saw a machine gun." (General Douglas MacArthur)

  6. "No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place." (Maya Angelou)
    "You can never plan the future by the past." (Edmund Burke)

  7. "If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to." (Dorothy Parker)
    "I am convinced that I have been given a gift by God to make money. And so I shall make money and make more money, and then I shall spend my money for the good of my fellow man as I see fit." (John D. Rockefeller, 1898)


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