2011 Profile in Courag Essay Contest winner Kevin Kay with Al Hunt, chair of the Profile in Courage Award Committee.

Maryland High School Student Wins National John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest

For Immediate Release: April 20, 2011
Further information: Rachel Day (617) 514-1662, rachel.day@jfklfoundation.org

Read the 2011 Winning Essay by Kevin Kay

Boston, MA—The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation today announced that Kevin Kay, a junior at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland has won the national John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest for High School Students™. Kay will be honored by Caroline Kennedy during the May 23, 2011 Profile in Courage Award ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston for his prize-winning essay on Florida State Representative John Orr, who in 1956 cast the sole dissenting vote against measures to perpetuate school segregation in his state. Kay will receive a $10000 award for his first-place essay.

The annual Profile in Courage Essay Contest invites students from across the nation to write an essay on the political courage of a U.S. elected official. The contest is a companion program of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award™, named for President Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, which recounts the stories of eight U.S. Senators who risked their careers, incurring the wrath of constituents or powerful interest groups, by taking principled stands for unpopular positions. This year, 2,002 students submitted essays from all fifty states and Washington, D.C. United States citizens studying in Canada, Guam, and France also participated. The essay contest is sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and generously supported by John Hancock Financial. 

Visit the Profile in Courage Essay Contest for High School Students and the Profile in Courage Award for more information.

In his winning essay, “The Forgotten Floridian: John B. Orr, Jr.”, Kay profiles civil rights advocate John B. Orr, Jr. who, as a freshman Florida State Representative in 1956, courageously challenged his state’s resistance to school integration. Kay describes how two years after the highest court in the nation mandated the integration of public schools, Florida Governor LeRoy Collins proposed a series of bills that would “circumvent the Supreme Court’s Brown ruling.” Eighty-nine legislators approved the first of the bills; Representative John B. Orr, Jr. stood alone against the measure. Kay writes, “…Orr addressed a hushed and tense chamber to justify his dissent. ‘I believe that segregation is morally wrong,’ he professed. ‘I believe that second-class citizens are repugnant to democratic principles. The fact that the custom is of long standing makes it no less wrong.’” Orr faced severe consequences for his daring stand against segregation including death threats and a cross burned on his lawn. The Miami Herald claimed Orr was “washed up politically” and “alone-without friends’ among his fellow legislators.” Having already secured the Democratic nomination, Orr managed to win re-election that year. However, he lost his seat to segregationist David Eldridge in the following Democratic primary election.

[Click here to read the winning essay.]

“The essay contest honors President Kennedy who believed deeply in the power of the individual and the promise of our nation’s young people to make a difference in our world,” said Tom McNaught, Executive Director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. “It is gratifying to see how readily students today can identify and understand acts of political courage and their importance in our democratic society. Kevin Kay is to be congratulated for his extraordinary accomplishment.”

“John Hancock congratulates Kevin Kay and all of the contest participants," said Carol Fulp, Sr. Vice President, Brand Communications & Corporate Social Responsibility for John Hancock Financial. “John Hancock’s commitment to education and civic responsibility is a long, proud tradition. We are pleased to support this contest to encourage student leadership and civic engagement.”

Kay will receive a $5,000 cash award from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation which will be matched with $5,000 from John Hancock Financial to be contributed to a John Hancock Freedom 529 College Savings Plan. He and his family will be the guests of the Kennedy family and the Kennedy Library Foundation at the May 23rd Profile in Courage Award ceremony in Boston. Kay will share the stage with this year’s Profile in Courage Award recipients, both of whom took principled stands to protect civil rights. Elizabeth Redenbaugh, a New Hanover County, North Carolina School Board member, stood up against what she perceived as racial segregation in school redistricting plans. Wael Ghonim, a marketing executive at Google, will accept the award in the name of the people of Egypt, whose courageous demand for democratic reform inspired similar movements across the Middle East.

Kevin Kay is the son of Susan and Stephen Kay and has an older sister, Jennifer, and a younger brother, Harrison. Having read Profiles in Courage after learning about President Kennedy in his U.S. History class, Kay decided to surf the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum website for more information about the book. He discovered the Profile in Courage Essay Contest, and committed himself to writing his essay over the summer. He submitted it in September, the fourth out of 2,002 students to enter an essay this contest season.

Because Kay selected a relatively unknown elected official for his essay topic, he quickly realized he would need to go beyond a typical online search to obtain the level of detailed information needed for the essay. He contacted the Miami-Dade Public Library and found a reference librarian who guided him to PDF versions of archival newspaper articles from Orr’s time in office.

A member of the varsity tennis team, Kay also works as a tutor for Peer2Peer Tutors and is a delegate to his Student Government Association. He is president of his school's chapter of the Junior Statesmen of America, a civic education and leadership program for high school students. He plans to study constitutional law, government, or politics.

Kay’s nominating teacher, Colin O’Brien, will receive a John F. Kennedy Public Service Grant in the amount of $500 to be used for school projects that encourage student leadership and civic engagement.

Two students placed second in this year’s contest: Amy Pollard, a junior at Squalicum High School in Bellingham, Washington for her essay on King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng; and Alissa Rice, a junior at Stillwater High School in Stillwater, Oklahoma, for her essay on U.S. Congressman Raul Grijalva of Arizona. They will each receive a $1,000 prize for this recognition.

Four students were also recognized as finalists in the competition. Those students are: Ryan Durazo, a junior at St. Anne’s Belfield School in Charlottesville, Virginia, for his essay on former City Councilman and current mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Cory Booker; Tianhao He, a senior at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda Maryland for his essay on former U.S. Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky; Nathaniel Posey, a senior at Beavercreek High School in Beavercreek, Ohio for his essay on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg; and Isaac Stanley-Becker, a junior at Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C. for his essay on former U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough. Each finalist will receive a $500 prize.

Three students received honorable mention: Jenny Gao, a junior at Aviation High School in Des Moines, Washington for her essay on U.S. Senator Patty Murray; Sietse Goffard, a senior at the American School of Paris in Saint-Cloud, France for his essay on U.S. Congressman Raul Grijalva; and Anupa Murali, a junior at Bishop Brady High School in Concord, New Hampshire for her essay on former U.S. Senator Russell Feingold.

The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award is presented annually to public servants who have made courageous decisions of conscience without regard for the personal or professional consequences. The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation created the Profile in Courage Award in 1989 to honor President Kennedy’s commitment and contribution to public service. It is presented in May in celebration of President Kennedy’s May 29th birthday. Described by one recipient as the Nobel in Government, the Profile in Courage Award is represented by a sterling-silver lantern symbolizing a beacon of hope. The lantern was designed by Edwin Schlossberg and crafted by Tiffany & Co.

The winning essay by was chosen by a distinguished bipartisan committee of national, political, and community leaders. Albert R. Hunt, executive Washington editor of Bloomberg News, chairs the 15-member Profile in Courage Award Committee. Committee members are U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi); U.S. Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards (D-Maryland); Kenneth R. Feinberg, Chairman of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; U.S. Senator Lindsey O. Graham (R-South Carolina); Antonia Hernandez, president and chief executive officer of the California Community Foundation; Elaine Jones, Director-Counsel Emeritus, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Caroline Kennedy, president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; Paul G. Kirk, Jr., former U.S. Senator (D-Massachusetts) and Chairman Emeritus of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; Martha Minow, Dean and Jeremiah Smith, Jr. Professor of Law at Harvard Law School; Shari Redstone, President, National Amusements, Inc; John Seigenthaler, founder of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University; David M. Shribman, executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine); and Patricia M. Wald, former judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Tom McNaught, executive director of the Kennedy Library Foundation, staffs the Committee.

This is the second year of support by John Hancock Financial, a unit of Manulife Financial Corporation (MFC), a leading Canadian-based financial services group serving millions of customers in 22 countries and territories worldwide. Operating as Manulife Financial in Canada and Asia, and primarily through John Hancock in the United States, the Company offers clients a diverse range of financial protection products and wealth management services through its extensive network of employees, agents and distribution partners. John Hancock Freedom 529 is a national Section 529 college savings plan offered by the Education Trust of Alaska, managed by T. Rowe Price, and distributed by John Hancock Distributors LLC through broker/dealers that have a selling agreement with John Hancock Distributors LLC. The plan offers a multi-managed approach, allowing investors to work with their financial consultants to pursue a strategy to maximize their investment opportunities while managing risk.

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and supported, in part, by the Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process of governing and the importance of public service.