"Winning is not the important thing. It is the only thing." — Vince Lombardi

"He that lives on hope will die fasting." — Benjamin Franklin

Congratulations, 2014 Essay Contest Winners

  • First Place: Evan Bourtis, Allendale Columbia School (essay)
  • Second Place: Margeaux Kelly, Pittsford Mendon High School (essay)
  • Second Place: Tara McAndrew, Our Lady of Mercy High School (essay)
  • Third Place: David Azzara, Pittsford Mendon High School (essay)
  • Third Place: Megan Fox, Our Lady of Mercy High School (essay)
  • Third Place: Elise Renner, Pittsford Mendon High School (essay)
  • Third Place: Rishaan Sharma, Pittsford Mendon High School (essay)

Essay Contest 2013-2014

2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015

This year we received 370 essays from 10 schools, including entries from two schools that didn't participate previously and three new teachers at schools that have participated before. The 1st place winner in this year's essay contest is Evan Bourtis from Allendale Columbia. He will receive $100 and the plaque to display at the school.

Urgent Need for Essay Contest Chairperson!

Do you enjoy reading essays and want to help guide area high school students in developing their critical thinking skills? If so, then we need you to take charge of our annual Essay Contest, which has been going strong since the 1991-1992 school year, except for the 2006-2007 school year to reorganize after Sharon Cassidy took over as chair.

According to Sharon, "We have received close to 7,500 essays since the beginning of the contest, and for each year since 2007-2008, we've had an average of 15 teachers from 9 schools participate."

The chair's job would be to coordinate with area high school teachers and volunteers who read and grade the essays.

Let's not end a 20+ year tradition that has touched so many Rochester area students. To volunteer, email us at CornellEssayContest@gmail.com (with "essay chair" in the subject line). To learn about this year's winners, see cornellclubrochester.org/essaycontest.html.

The two 2nd place winners are from Our Lady of Mercy and Pittsford Mendon. They will each receive $50. The four 3rd place winners are also from Our Lady of Mercy and Pittsford Mendon. They will each receive a certificate.

In addition there are 25 finalists who will receive certificates, 47 semi-finalists, and 58 honorable mentions. Congratulations to all of our winners!

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.

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!


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 not only your own experiences (from school, people you've met, extracurricular achievements or failures, jobs, travel, family dinner discussions, etc.) but also insights you've gained from books, movies, songs, etc. Your essay should give the reader a sense of who you are and why you believe the quote is true. Refer to the grading rubric to see the criteria for judging essays.
  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, 2014.
  11. Due to the large volume of essays we receive, we cannot send emails confirming receipt of individual essays.
  12. Essays that do not follow the rules will be eliminated from the contest without being graded.

NOTE: Please refer to the grading rubric to see the criteria used in judging essays.

Quotation Pairs

  1. "Talk was given to the people for good." (Native American Sauk saying)

    "Deeds speak louder than words." (Native American Assinibone saying)
  2. "One must, it is true, forgive one's enemies -- but not before they have been hanged." (Heinrich Heine)
    "If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility." (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
  3. "Hope springs eternal in the human breast." (Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man)
    "He that lives on hope will die fasting." (Benjamin Franklin)

  4. "I am not influenced by the expectation of promotion or pecuniary reward. I wish to be useful, and every kind of service necessary for the public good, becomes honorable by being necessary." (Nathan Hale)
    "All sensible people are selfish." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

  5. "The conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerilla army wins if it does not lose." (Henry Kissinger, 1969)
    "Winning is not the important thing. It is the only thing." (Vince Lombardi)

  6. "Men at some time are masters of their fates: the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings." (Shakespeare, Julius Caesar)
    "It lies not in our power to love or hate, For will in us is over-rul'd by fate . . ." (Christopher Marlowe, Hero and Leander, 1598)
  7. "It is not what a lawyer tells me I may do; but what humanity, reason, and justice tell me I ought to do." (Edmund Burke)
    "I did not hire you as my lawyer to tell me what I cannot do; I hired you to counsel me on how I can do what I will do, the law notwithstanding." (J.P. Morgan)


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