"Public policy these days is driven mostly by events, not books." — Steven S. Hall, NY Times Book Review, 2004

"The ends justify the means." — Niccolo Machiavelli

Congratulations, 2012 Essay Contest Winners

  • First Place: Claire Santiago, Pittsford Sutherland High School (essay)
  • Second Place: Katherine Gascon, Webster Thomas High School (essay)
  • Second Place: Emily Hann, Our Lady of Mercy High School (essay)
  • Third Place: Zoe Baruch, Brighton High School (essay)
  • Third Place: Jonah M. Boucher, Brighton High School (essay)
  • Third Place: Sarah Lee, Pittsford Mendon High School (essay)

Essay Contest 2011-2012

2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015

The competition is open to all eleventh grade high school students in the greater Rochester area. We hope that participating in the contest will help develop your critical thinking and writing skills. In particular, our recent experience demonstrates these skills are critical to success in your college application essay next fall, as well as for your Regents English exam later this spring.

We will award a first prize of $100 in cash, and up to three 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 $1000 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 most essayists designated as semi-finalists or higher have 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 can 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.) anywhere on the essay and rebuttal pages. This includes the header you use for AP English, your name at the top of the page, and your name within the body of the essay..
  7. All entries must be in Microsoft Word (.docx, .doc, .rtf or .wps) format or text (.txt) format. Please do not submit entries in .odt or .pages format or pasted directly into the body of your email message.
  8. Please double-space your essay and please use 1" margins and 100% magnification.
  9. Submit your essay as a single email attachment to the following email address: CornellEssayContest@gmail.com
  10. All entries must be e-marked no later than January 31, 2012.
  11. Due to the large volume of essays we receive, we cannot send emails confirming receipt of individual essays.

Quotation Pairs

  1. "You are in our prayers." (Pope John Paul II to the victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami)

    "A rocky vineyard does not need a prayer but a pickaxe." (Native American Navajo saying)
  2. "There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance -- that principle is contempt prior to investigation." (Attributed to Herbert Spencer)
    "You should be open-minded, but not so open-minded that your brain falls out." (Unknown)
  3. "The Force be with you." (Harrison Ford in Star Wars)
    "The Force is within you. Force yourself." (Harrison Ford in a Barbara Walters' Special)

  4. "Public policy these days is driven mostly by events, not books." (Steven S. Hall, NY Times Book Review, November 14, 2004)
    "I don't care who writes a nation's laws ... if I can write its economics textbooks." (MIT Institute Professor and Nobel Laureate Paul Samuelson)

  5. "But war's a game which, were their subjects wise, kings would not play at." (William Cowper, The Winter Morning Walk)
    "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure." (Thomas Jefferson)

  6. "Without gods, men are nothing." (Homer, The Odyssey)
    "Man must accept responsibility for himself. ... There is no meaning to life except the meaning man gives his life by the unfolding of his powers." (Eric Fromm)

  7. "Let no man turn aside, ever so slightly, from the broad path of honor, on the plausible pretence that he is justified by the goodness of his end. All good ends can be worked out by good means." (Charles Dickens)
    "The ends justify the means." (Niccolo Machiavelli)


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