President John F. Kennedy respected and admired acts of political courage. His book, Profiles in Courage, published in 1956, recounts the stories of eight U.S. Senators who risked their careers by taking public stands for unpopular positions. The Profile in Courage Award, presented each May by the Kennedy Library Foundation, honors elected officials who have demonstrated exceptional political courage.

The Profile in Courage Essay Contest invites United States high school students to consider the concept of political courage by writing an essay on a U.S. elected official who has chosen to do what is right, rather than what is expedient. A “Profile in Courage” essay is a carefully researched recounting of a story: the story of how an elected official risked his or her career to take a stand based on the dictates of the public good, rather than the dictates of polls, interest groups or even constituents. The contest challenges high school students to discover new profiles in courage, and to research and write about acts of political courage that occurred after the 1956 publication of John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage.

The winner of the competitive annual contest is awarded a $10,000 prize and is invited to accept the award at the Profile in Courage Award ceremony held each May at the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. The student’s nominating teacher receives a John F. Kennedy Public Service Grant in the amount of $500 and is also invited to attend the Profile in Courage Award ceremony.  A second place winner receives $1,000 and up to five finalists each receive $500. All finalists receive a hardcover copy of Profiles in Courage. The essay contest is sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and generously supported by John Hancock Financial.

The Profile in Courage Essay Contest meets several National Standards in Social Studies and English and offers a meaningful opportunity for students to develop and enhance research, writing and critical thinking skills while they deepen their understanding and appreciation of politics and history.

Topic Guidelines

Students are asked to write an original and creative essay of 1,000 words or less that demonstrates an understanding of political courage as described by John F. Kennedy in Profiles in Courage. Students should use at least five varied sources such as government documents, letters, newspaper articles, books, and/or personal interviews to address the following topic: 

Describe and analyze an act of political courage by a United States elected official that took place during or after 1956. Include an analysis of the obstacles, risks, and consequences associated with the act. The essay may concern an issue at the local, state, national, or international level.

All submissions must adhere to contest requirements.

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The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest is generously supported by:

John Hancock