Before an audience of students, professors and three former congressman, a student read the essay that earned her a $250 award on Wednesday.

Esther Mezhibovsky, a biomedical sciences senior, was presented her award during a forum on the Constitution and Bill of Rights at the Barbara Ying International Student Center, where she read her winning essay on the past and present struggles of civil equality.

Mezhibovsky was equal parts surprised and humbled as her award was presented by Congressman Lou Frey, Jr., founder of the Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government that sponsored the essay contest.

"[Winning] was really unexpected," Mehzibovsky said. "I just found out I was speaking 10 minutes before the event, but I felt that it was a really important thing to do. Maybe my words can get to someone and maybe they can be inspired to implement it in their own way."

The essay was read at the end of a forum that brought former statesmen and current UCF faculty together to discuss with students the nature of civil rights on the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Along with Congressman Lou Frey, Jr., Congressman Peter G. Torkildsen and Ambassador William J. Hughes were present to describe their careers and field questions from the audience. The congressmen were joined by legal studies faculty James Beckman and Cynthia Schmidt, who helped moderate the discussions.

"This is a special event," Hughes said. "We take a lot of things for granted these days and celebrating milestones in our history is extremely important."

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