Being Working Student Essay Contests

In March, 64 lawyers from Holland & Knight were busy poring over thousands of essays. These weren’t from legal briefings or court hearings. They were submissions from over 5,200 students who entered the 2017 Facing History Together Student Essay Contest. The global law firm’s Holocaust Remembrance Project, which is part of its charitable foundation, generously funded the contest but their lawyers also took an extra step by volunteering to review the essays.

That’s because this student essay contest holds a special place in the firm. The Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation’s Holocaust Remembrance Project began over 20 years ago to provide resources to teachers for Holocaust education. Eventually it evolved into a student essay contest. Similar to this year’s theme for the Facing History Together Student Essay Contest, the Holocaust Remembrance Project asked students to reflect on themes from this dark period in history.

So why the focus on essays? Holland & Knight wanted students to be able to express themselves.

“Our goal was really to catch them as they are becoming aware of their ability to make a difference and engage them,” says Elias Matsakis, a partner for the firm. “The student has to process, reflect, and express through an essay contest. We thought it would have a transformational impact for them.”

As their contest grew in popularity the firm knew it had to find a different way to continue the legacy of this project, so they partnered with Facing History this year, which asked students to reflect on an insightful quote from Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel.

“Because the contest grew to such a large extent on a national level it outgrew our ability to handle it alone,” says Bill Sherman, a partner at the firm and a board member of the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation. “The partnership with Facing History seemed to be an excellent way for us to continue the work of the Holocaust Remembrance Project.”

Reviewing essays was a way for the lawyers to continue to feel connected to the students. And they weren’t shy about signing up to read them.

“Some of them took on a minimum commitment for reading and then took on more because they really enjoyed the opportunity to hear those voices from the students,” says Matsakis.

Another reason the firm feels so strongly about this year’s theme is due to the current tensions in the United States and around the world.

“The rhetoric has changed in the United States,” says Matsakis. “We really felt it was perhaps more relevant than it has been for a number of years and we thought it gave a nice voice to young people.”

In addition to volunteering their time to read, Holland & Knight is providing $25,000 to fund student scholarships for the winners as well as educator awards for teachers. These awards and scholarships will be named in honor of or in memory of family members affected by the Holocaust, allowing Holland & Knight team members to further connect reflections from today’s students to the legacy of their loved ones.

They may be done reviewing all of the essays but now it’s time for you to share your voice by voting for your favorite essays. You can vote once per day so make sure you cast all of your votes by Friday, April 21!


Media Contact: Valerie Linson
[email protected]

Facing History Launches 2017 Student Essay Contest: Making Choices in Today’s World

More than $25,000 in scholarships and prizes available 

BOSTON, Massachusetts (February 2, 2017) -- Beginning today, secondary school students and their teachers in the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom have the opportunity to win over $25,000 in scholarships and prizes through Facing History and Ourselves’ third annual Facing History Together Student Essay Contest, “Making Choices in Today’s World.” This year’s contest is inspired by the powerful quote from the late Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate. 

Teachers and students can access the contest website ( and start to plan. Essays will be accepted from March 1-15, and winners will be announced in at the beginning of May. Three $5,000 (£4,000​) grand prizes will be awarded to students, as well as seven $1,000 ((£800) awards. Teachers whose students are winners will receive prizes as well.

To help educators bring this prompt into their classroom, Facing History offers lesson plans from the newly revised digital edition of Holocaust and Human Behavior to explore key themes, examine historical examples, and make important connections as they begin thinking about who or what has influenced their own ethical decision-making process and consider how they want to participate in their community. 

The prizes for the 2017 Facing History Together Student Essay Contest are generously funded by Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation's Holocaust Remembrance Project. 

“With our decades of commitment, we are excited to embark on a new partnership that will help educate students about the Holocaust and the effect it has had on our society and our world. Sponsoring this essay contest for students will help to inspire a new generation filled with compassion, tolerance, and the courage to stand up for what's right,” said Ralph Lepore, Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation Chairman.

For over 20 years, the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation's Holocaust Remembrance Project has encouraged the study of the Holocaust and how this watershed moment in human history relates to our world today. As part of this initiative, the Foundation is generously supporting Facing History's 2017 Student Essay Contest, which will encourage students to reflect upon the Holocaust as they examine the role of moral courage in today's society. In addition to the Foundation’s financial support of the essay contest and its student scholarships and teacher awards, individual employees of the law firm of Holland & Knight will serve as essay reviewers.

“Working with Facing History, we are going to engage our young people to examine and reflect on this horrific period in world history and its relevance to today, all with the hope that every day going forward they will be champions of tolerance and the oppressed,” said Elias Matsakis, Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation President.

Students must be residents of the United States, Canada (excluding Quebec), or United Kingdom and 13 years or older to submit an essay. Student submissions for the essay contest will be accepted from March 1 through March 15. After Facing History selects the top essays, the public will be invited to help select a winner by opening voting on April 12 until April 21. The contest winners will be announced at the beginning of May. Please visit the contest site ( for a breakdown of all the scholarships and prizes.

For more information about the contest, please contact Valerie Linson, Editorial Director, at [email protected]​ or 617-735-1698. 

About Facing History and Ourselves

Facing History and Ourselves was founded in 1976 by educators who believed that instilling intellectual vigor and curiosity goes hand-in-hand with teaching facts and figures. From the disturbing lessons of the Holocaust and other genocides to struggles for civil rights from Birmingham to South Africa, we trust students to wrestle with complex moments in human history, and work to help them understand the range of human behavior. These students learn to connect the dots between the ethical choices they’ll face in life and the positive outcomes they can create in their community and the world. Visit for more information.



Thursday, February 2, 2017 - 3:15pm

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