Jamie Baer, first-place winner of the 2013 Profile in Courage Essay Contest and Al Hunt, Chair of the Profile in Courage Award committee Read the 2013 Winning Essay by Jamie Baer.

Boston, MA—The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation today announced that Jamie Baer, a senior at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has won the national John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest for High School Students. Baer’s prize-winning essay tells the story of former New York State Senator Roy McDonald, who, in June 2011, crossed party lines to vote in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in the state. Baer will be honored on May 5, 2013 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. She will also receive a $10,000 award for her first-place essay.

The national essay contest is sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and generously supported by John Hancock Financial.

The annual Profile in Courage Essay Contest invites high school students from across the nation to write an essay on an act of political courage by 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, 1,814 students submitted essays from all fifty states and Washington, D.C., along with U.S. citizens in Chile, Egypt, India and Taiwan.

For more information on the Profile in Courage Essay Contest for High School Students and the Profile in Courage Award, visit www.jfklibrary.org.

In her winning essay, Baer describes how McDonald, a conservative Republican from Saratoga County, “shocked his constituents” when he voted for marriage equality. With a Republican majority in the New York state senate, the decision to legalize gay marriage was uncertain until the final votes were cast. McDonald, along with three other Republican senators, voted to support the law, making the New York Senate the first legislative body with a Republican majority to legalize same-sex marriage.

Baer explains how McDonald, serving in his first term as a New York state senator, faced dire consequences for his vote. Groups opposed to gay marriage organized a “backlash against McDonald and other supporters of the Marriage Equality Act,” Baer wrote. She described how the group New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms erroneously asserted that McDonald and other New York senate Republicans received campaign donations from Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor Andrew Cuomo in return for their support of the Marriage Equality Act. Regardless of pressure from conservative groups, Baer recounts that the senator from Saratoga was not apologetic about his break with party values. Baer quoted McDonald in saying that he had “’faith that his course was the best one.’”

Baer asserts that McDonald’s controversial vote cost him his senate seat: he lost the 2012 Republican primary to Kathleen Marchione, who made McDonald’s reversal on marriage equality an issue in the campaign. Baer writes, “He switched his position on same-sex marriage to protect the equality and dignity of the greater public; for this act, his reputation among his conservative constituents was irreversibly damaged.”

[Click here to read the winning essay.]

“The Profile in Courage Essay Contest celebrates the legacy of 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 Library Foundation. “It is gratifying to see how readily students today can identify and understand acts of political courage and their importance in our democratic society. We congratulate Jamie Baer for her extraordinary accomplishment.”

“John Hancock congratulates Jamie Baer and all of the other talented students who submitted essays this year," said Tom Crohan, Assistant Vice President & Counsel, Corporate Responsibility & Government Relations for John Hancock Financial. “We are proud to celebrate President Kennedy's inspiring legacy, and reinforce to the next generation of leaders the importance of active civic engagement.”

Baer 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.

Jamie Baer is the daughter of Bonnie and Jerome Baer, and younger sister of Allison Baer. The valedictorian of her class of 545 students, she received English Department awards her freshman, sophomore, and junior years and was selected by the Indiana Association of School Principals as a 2013 Regional Academic All-Star. She serves as a board member for the National Honor Society at Homestead High School and is Vice-President of the Spanish Club at her school. A founding student member of the Network Club, she works with a group of teachers and students to create a culture of kindness, compassion, and acceptance at her school. Baer spent the summer before her senior year volunteering for Habitat for Humanity and Humanitarian Foundation in Costa Rica. She also participates on the board of the Fort Wayne Organization of Temple Youth and enjoys playing tennis, reading, running, and spending time with friends.

Baer submitted her essay as a class assignment for her Advanced Placement English Language and Composition course. Her nominating teacher, Constance Christophersen, uses the Profile in Courage Essay Contest as a way to meet many national standards for writing. Christophersen, who has had several students selected as finalists over the past seven years, reports that she finds “this particular assignment extremely valuable. Students begin to see political figures as more than names on pages…or talking heads on news programs. They recognize that courage is timeless and a trait few are willing to exhibit.” Christophersen 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.

Samantha Holmes, a junior at Ridgefield High School in Ridgefield, Connecticut was selected as the second-place winner for her essay on former Texas State Senator Jeff Wentworth. She will receive a $1,000 prize for this recognition.

Five students were recognized as finalists in the competition: Jackson Beard, a senior at Walter Payton College Preparatory School in Chicago, Illinois for her essay on former Chicago Alderman Leon Despres; Daniel Burke, a junior at Fiorello H. Laguardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York City for his essay on former New York State Senator Stephan Saland; Julie Guthrie, a senior at Pulaski County High School in Dublin, Virginia for her essay on former Virginia U.S. Representative Rick Boucher; Jessica Liu, a junior at Crescent Valley High School in Corvallis, Oregon for her essay on former City Clerk Clela Rorex of Boulder, Colorado; and Felix Wu, a sophomore at The Harker School in San Jose, California for his essay on former Cleveland Mayor Dennis Kucinich. Each finalist will receive a $500 prize.

Three students received honorable mention: Victoria Barnard, a senior at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana for her essay on former Indiana U.S. Senator Richard Lugar; Noah Lingwall, a senior at Clarion Area Junior-Senior High School in Clarion, Pennsylvania for his essay on Wisconsin State Senator Fred Risser; and Leah Smith, a freshman at The Park School in Baltimore, Maryland for her essay on former Maryland State Senator Verda Welcome.

The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award is presented annually to public servants who have made courageous decisions in the public interest 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 14-member Profile in Courage Award Committee. Committee members are Christopher Dodd, Chairman and CEO, Motion Picture Association of America and former U.S. Senator (D-Connecticut); 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, former director-counsel of the 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; and former U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). Tom McNaught, executive director of the Kennedy Library Foundation, staffs the Committee.

This is the fourth 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.