Remarks by Caroline Kennedy
Thank you Ken for that introduction, for your leadership, and for your public service. I want to join you in welcoming everyone here to the Kennedy Library.
This year is a special one as we mark the 50th anniversary of my father’s Presidency. The awards we are presenting this morning celebrate the spirit of citizen activism that he inspired, and demonstrate the power of individual acts of courage to change the course of history.
It means a great deal to me and my family that so many people still share my father’s ideals and his vision for America, in this room, across this country, and around the world .
All my life people have told me that President Kennedy changed their lives – they decided to serve our country , join the Peace Corps, run for office, volunteer in the inner city or in outer space , because he asked them to- and convinced them that they could make a difference.
The generation he inspired changed this country – they fought for civil rights, womens rights , human rights and nuclear disarmament. They passed that inspiration down to their children and grandchildren. As the first truly modern President, he redefined America’s timeless values for a global audience, and asked each individual to take responsibility for making this a better world.
On the 50th anniversary of his Presidency, my father’s time is becoming part of history- rather than living memory- yet President Kennedy’s words, his example and his spirit remain as vital as ever. At a time when too many young people are disillusioned with politics, we need to reach across the generations and recommit ourselves and our country to these ideals .
One of the ways that we connect past and present, is through the Profile In Courage Award. By honoring courageous individuals who act on principle without regard for the personal consequences – we honor the quality that my father most admired in public life.
Each year, when we give this award in his name, it reaffirms my faith in democracy, and in the people who serve at all levels of government on both sides of the aisle.
This year our honorees come from different parts of the world- but they each embody my father’s belief that one person of courage makes a majority. Their very different careers demonstrate the power of citizen engagement both at home and around the world.
Individual acts of conscience can keep us true to our shared values as Elizabeth Redebaugh did when she stood up for the right of all children to have a shot at the American Dream.
And Wael Ghonim’s moral outrage sparked a revolution that broke down the barriers of isoation and fear, and empowered thousands to seek a democratic future for themselves and their children.
On the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s administration, I can think of no better tribute than to honor these two outstanding profiles in courage.
Now I would like to tell you a little bit more about each of them.
Like so many others across the country, attorney and mother of three, Elizabeth Redenbaugh first answered the call to service as a volunteer in her children’s schools, doing her part for her family and her community. In 2008, she was elected to the New Hanover County school board, where she assumed responsibility for the education of 24,000 North Carolina children.
When the board began to redraw middle school district lines, Elizabeth faced a choice between following the wishes of her constituents, who were also her friends and neighbors, and standing up for the principles that have animated 50 years of American social progress.
Most of Elizabeth’s constituents and colleagues favored a new district map that would send children to the schools closest to their homes, irrespective of other considerations.
While neighborhood schools were an appealing idea in many ways, Elizabeth knew that such a map would concentrate most of the county’s poor children in just one or two schools. She also knew that most of those poor children would be African–American. And she knew that schools with high concentrations of poverty are overwhelmingly likely to fail. She believed that under such a plan, the county would fail in its duty to provide every student with equal access to a quality education and an equal opportunity to succeed in life.
For these reasons, Elizabeth opposed the idea of drawing school district boundaries strictly along neighborhood lines. She urged New Hanover County parents and her school board colleagues to preserve a measure of socioeconomic and racial diversity in the schools.
Her stance carried real and painful consequences. It pitted her against angry friends and neighbors. People threatened her at school board meetings, and on the radio and blamed her for destroying their community. But she stood her ground.
By a vote of 4 to 3, the New Hanover County school board ultimately approved the neighborhood schools plan. Elizabeth Redenbaugh was the only Republican and the only white member of the school board to oppose the plan. The two board members who joined her in opposition - Dorothy DeShields and Nick Rhodes – are here today and I would like to ask them to stand and be recognized.
Elizabeth, Dorothy and Nick launched an important and far-reaching debate about our continuing commitment to social justice. In a direct link to the struggles of 50 years ago, they reminded us all that education remains the civil rights issue of our time.
Now it is my pleasure to present the 2011 Profile in Courage Award to Elizabeth Redenbaugh. Please join me in honoring her now.
[Elizabeth Redenbaugh gives remarks.]
Half a world away, the voices of the Egyptian people have transformed tragedy and despair into a global movement for freedom and democracy.
In June of 2010, after a young Egyptian businessman was brutally beaten and killed by police, Wael Ghonim created a Facebook page to protest the killing. His page became a gathering place where Egyptians could protest of the human rights violations and other government abuses that were all too common in Egypt.
Wael’s single act provided the spark for countless others, and a movement began to build.
Six months later, the world watched as the people of Tunisia summoned their courage and rose up to demand a better future. Wael Ghonim was one of those watching. He was inspired by the Tunisians who risked their lives to stand up for change. He used his Facebook page to ask his fellow Egyptians to do the same thing. He had no idea how many would heed the call.
On January 25, after decades of silence, people in Tahrir Square and all over Egypt joined in protest and for the next two weeks, they made themselves heard in every corner of the globe.
Many Egyptians paid a heavy price for speaking up. Hundreds were killed and thousands were injured by security forces loyal to the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. The government tried to stifle the uprising by imprisoning and torturing democracy activists who were using social media to encourage civil disobedience. Wael was one of those captured by Egyptian police.
But the voices of Wael and his countrymen and women would not be silenced. After 12 days in captivity, Wael was released. He immediately returned to Tahrir Square, and his courageous return gave the movement new strength. Let’s look back at those electrifying moments for just a minute.
As we all now know, within just a few days, the people of Egypt were charting a new future for themselves and their children. Their courage has inspired thousands of others, near and far, to make their own stand for justice and a democratic future based on hope and freedom.
Now I would like to ask Wael Ghonim to accept the Profile in Courage Award in the name of all his countrymen and women. Wael, will you please come forward.
[Wael Ghonim gives remarks]