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

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

Congratulations, 2013 Essay Contest Winners

  • First Place: Martijn Appelo, Allendale Columbia School (essay)
  • Second Place: Maria Geba, Our Lady of Mercy High School (essay)
  • Second Place: Lizzie Stewart, Penfield High School (essay)
  • Third Place: Nasiba Aliyeva, Our Lady of Mercy High School (essay)
  • Third Place: Alice Longenbach, Brighton High School (essay)
  • Third Place: Gabriella Longmore, Webster Thomas High School (essay)

Essay Contest 2013-2014

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 award $950 during the winner's sophomore year. Similarly, if any second prize winner attends Cornell, that student will receive $450.

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 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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