The Firefighter Christopher Santora Educational Scholarship Fund Website

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Panagiota Giannakos:
2015 Winner
Bayside High School

Panagiota Giannakos

Winning Essay

​Every morning students all over the nation rise from their seats, cross their right hand over their heart and recite the pledge. After mindlessly saying the words they have repeated so many times before, they end it with the statement “with liberty and justice for all,” take their seats and continue with their business. It has come to my attention that when most people recite the pledge they speak hollow words, words that hold no meaning. American history and even events that have occurred in recent years validate that we as Americans lack the full understanding of what justice truly means. The prominent philosopher, Plato, once said “Justice in the life and conduct of the state is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens.” Fully agreeing with Plato, I believe that justice is something very similar to morality and righteousness. Although we have preached for hundreds of years that we are a country that stands for justice, it seems as though our vision of what we preach has been obscured. Instances in American history and current news, such as the relocation of Japanese Americans during WWII and the refusal and discrimination towards same sex marriage, are similar to the degenerating conditions of ancient Athens that Plato was so disappointed with. To watch a society live without social consciousness of their actions and live without principals and virtue is disheartening. Plato said time and time again that it is “the whole duty of a man” to lead with justice. With these occurrences it seems that we as a society have veered off the course of our duties.

​One of the simplest interpretations of justice is the equality of all races and religions. Racism and prejudice are no reflection of the meaning of justice whatsoever, but in the 1940s we essentially gave the impression that it was. On February 19th 1942, two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed executive order 9066 which led to the assembly, evacuation and relocation of approximately 122,000 people of Japanese ancestry to the West Coast. Of course what the Japanese had done was horrifying and unforgiving and of course the United States needed to take action in order to protect the people of its nation, but what the U.S. did not need to do was immediately let fear replace its code of ethics. From March of 1942 to 1946, the US War Relocation Authority forced Japanese-American families to evacuate and leave behind their homes, businesses, pets, land and belongings, only allowing them to bring what they could carry. Yes, the government provided them with medical care, schools and food, but the concentration/relocation camps were still surrounded by barbed wired fences and armed soldiers. Accusing innocent citizens of being a threat and forcing them to leave behind their entire life is exactly the opposite of justice. At the time, several people living in the camps were interviewed and most considered themselves to be “proud, loyal and even patriotic Americans.” To falsely assume that people who vow that they are loyal to their country are villains is unethical. Eventually our country grew to realize that what we were doing was no way to treat people, so Executive Order 9066 was rescinded. Japanese Americans still experienced racism even after the relocation camps had ended. Hiroshi Kashiwagi, a Japanese American who was relocated to the Tule Segregation Camp, told interviewers that he was segregated in school when he returned home and put in a separate classroom away from the “rich white kids.” A society that discriminates against people simply because of their race cannot be considered one that stands for justice. Ironically, while this all took place many states started to make it mandatory that the pledge be recited everyday.

​With justice comes freedom; Freedom of speech, freedom of religion and most importantly freedom of happiness. Nobody was given the right to deny someone else of happiness just like how we as a society do not have the right to disallow same sex marriage. If two men or two women make each other happy and want to marry than so be it. To make a law against this is unjust and immoral because we are hindering someone from his or her happiness. We as a country who preach, “all men are created equal” and “justice for all” cannot contradict ourselves by then stating that the matrimony of two people is illegal. By doing this we cast doubt on the legitimacy of the foundation of our nation. The laws that ban same sex marriage also encourage the discrimination of the LGBTQ community. There is a long history of crimes that are allegedly targeted towards this community. In May of 2013 Mark Carson was shot to death for being gay. The case fell under the category of a “hate crime” after investigators learned that the suspect hurled anti-gay comments at Mark before and after shooting him in the head. How can a nation expect its people to be civil with one another if the court itself cannot put aside its own selfish beliefs? Everyone is entitled to his opinion, but these opinions should not dictate who is allowed to employ a basic right. A society with justice would grant equality in all aspects. Slowly but surely America is growing to become more understanding in this aspect. In October of 2014 the supreme court refused to hear cases from the states Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin, who sought to keep their bans, and cleared the way for legal same sex marriage! Couples in those states were so ecstatic that they filed for marriage papers only hours after the courts’ decision. This exemplifies justice. Our growth into a country that provides each of its people with equality deems us eligible to preach about justice.

​Evidently nobody enjoys highlighting his down faults and remembering the errors he has made, but it is from those mistakes that a person learns and grows.  We can only better ourselves if we look at our past and understand what we have done wrong. We are a country that propagates justice and by understanding what unjust actions we have made in the past, we can move forward. To me justice is the genuine respect for all people and living with a selfless heart and a morally good soul. Children and teens recite the pledge every morning, but do they fully understand what they are saying? The pledge and more importantly the term justice cannot just be a shout into oblivion. There needs to be meaning behind our words. Justice is a beautiful thing and should not be tarnished. According Plato “it is the remedy to cure all evils.” Being the influential and strong country we are, we must practice what we preach, and if we do we can become the unified and harmonious country that we so long to be.


My name is Panagiota Giannakos and I am a senior, currently attending Bayside High School. As these last few months of my final year in Bayside dwindle down, I realize more and more how truly grateful I am that I was allowed to attend a school like this. Four years ago, I entered the hallways of Bayside as an impressionable, shy, and weak freshmen with no voice. The vast experiences I have gained inside of this building, from English class to student council meetings, are what have helped shape me into the young woman with a strong personality and concrete morals, values, and opinions, with which I used to write my essay, that I am today. I am confident that come June I will graduate with the necessary tools needed to embark on the journey that is adulthood, and to reach my ultimate dreams.

​Along side school, dancing, my utmost passion, is what has also aided my growth into the person I am today. I have trained in classical ballet and other styles of dance since the age of four. Obviously, after all these years of training, I have learned to dance, but what is more important is the lessons that I can carry with me outside of my studio. Dance has taught me to be confident and to never let myself get intimidated. Dance has also helped me to establish my work ethic and a sense of time management. Most importantly dance has taught that with hard work, determination and love for what I do, I can make anything happen. My years of dancing are filled with injuries, sweat, tears and bruises, but are also filled with some of the best memories and people of my life thus far, and for that I am thankful.

​Of course behind each and every one of my successes is my parents and beautiful family. I would like to thank them for their constant love and support and for always helping me and cheering me on. I would also like to thank all of my amazing teachers and mentors for their hard work and dedication. Lastly I would like to thank the Santora family and scholarship committee for this amazing prize that I have been so blessed to receive.

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