May 24, 2004, John Seigenthaler, Will Schmidley

Arkansas and New York High School Students Share Top Honors in John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest

News Release
(617) 514-1662

Read 2004 Winning Essays by Avram Sand (pdf) and William Schmidley (pdf)

Boston -- Will Schmidley, an 18 year-old senior at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Avram Sand, an 16 year-old junior at Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy in New York City, will be honored by Caroline Kennedy and other members of President Kennedy's family during the May 24th Profile in Courage Award ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston for their prize-winning entries in the national John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest for High School Students.

The Profile in Courage Essay Contest invites students from across the nation to write an essay about a current political issue at the local, state or national level and an elected official in the United States who is acting courageously to address that issue. The award is named for President Kennedy's 1957 Pulitzer prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, which recounts the stories of eight U.S. Senators who risked their careers to fight for what they believed in. The essay contest is sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and supported by Fidelity Investments through its Fidelity Cares program. The co-winners will each receive a $3,000 first prize.

A total of 2,208 essays were submitted by high-school students from across the nation to the annual contest which asks students to write a compelling essay about a U.S. elected official, past or present, who has displayed political courage and worked to make a difference in the world.

"Congratulations to Avram Sand and Will Schmidley on their award-winning essays and to the thousands of young people who submitted essays," said John Shattuck, CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation. "The essay contest fittingly honors President Kennedy who believed deeply in the power of the individual and the promise of our nation's young people. It is gratifying to see how readily students today can identify and understand acts of political courage and their importance in our democratic society."

"Fidelity's commitment to civic responsibility is a long, proud tradition. We are pleased to support this contest to encourage student leadership and civic engagement" said Doug Reed, Senior Vice President for Regional Administration, "this contest fits in with our commitment to education, literacy and leadership".

Avram Sand on Bernard Confer
In his essay, "Bernard Confer: Courage Within His Community," Avram Sand describes the political courage of the president of the board of education in Teaneck, New Jersey, who in the early 1960s sought to rectify racial imbalance in the town's schools by creating an integrated central sixth-grade. A powerful citizens group organized to block Bernard Confer's proposal and to oust him in the upcoming elections. Throughout the process, Confer and his family endured verbal abuse, threats of physical harm, and alienation by neighbors, but citing the school dilemma as "a moral issue" for the community, Confer never backed down. He won re-election by a slim 21 votes, and eventually, once it was in place, the people of Teaneck accepted the integrated central sixth grade.

Will Schmidley on George Ryan
Will Schmidley writes about the political courage of George Ryan who served as governor of Illinois from 1999 to 2004. Schmidley cited Governor Ryan's courage in imposing the nation's first death-penalty moratorium and altering his personal belief about capital punishment once he became aware of flaws in the Illinois justice system. Ryan had been a stanch supporter of capital punishment; his friend, Steve Small, had been murdered-buried alive following abduction from his driveway. Ryan believed that "some crimes were so heinous that the only proper way of protecting society was execution." But, in 2000, when several investigations revealed a system in Illinois riddled with errors from police brutality to forced confessions, Ryan imposed a death-penalty moratorium. In 2003, because passage of legislation to reform the state's flawed capital punishment system would not be retroactive, Ryan saw it fit to commute the death sentences of the 167 prisoners remaining on death row, including the man who killed Steve Small.

Avram Sand is the son of Arlene and Michael Sand of Teaneck, New Jersey, and the brother of Aryeh Sand and Elana Sand. Avram writes for his school newspaper and Currents, a current events magazine. He organizes activities for the Zionist Club, participates in Model Congress activities, and is planning a career in history.

Will Schmidley is the son of Eugenia and James Schmidley of Little Rock, Arkansas. A National Merit Finalist, Will plans to play baseball at Dartmouth College where he will be a freshman next fall. He is president of the National Honor Society at his school and hopes to someday have a career as a sportswriter.

Avram Sand, Will Schmidley, and their parents will be the guests of the Kennedy family and the Kennedy Library Foundation at the May 24th Profile in Courage Award ceremony in Boston. Both Sand and Schmidley will share the stage with this year's Profile in Courage Award recipients.

The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award is presented annually to public servants who have withstood strong opposition to follow what they believe is the right course of action. Past recipients of the award include former U.S. President Gerald Ford, U.S. Senator John McCain, U.S. Senator Russell Feingold, U.S. Representative John Lewis, California State Senator Hilda Solis, former Palos Heights, Illinois, Mayor Dean Koldenhoven, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, and America's public servants who responded to the terrorists attacks of September 11, 2001.

The May 24h Profile in Courage Award Ceremony will honor Sima Samar, an Afghan medical doctor who ignored death threats and defied the Taliban for twelve years to provide Afghan girls and women with access to health care and education and who, after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, became the first woman to be appointed to a cabinet position in the interim Afghan government. Former North Carolina State Representative Cindy Watson (R) and former Oklahoma State Senator Paul Muegge (D) will also be honored with 2004 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Awards for their courage in standing up to the powerful hog industry in their respective states in order to protect the environment and the health and well-being of their constituents. For more information about the Profile in courage Award and this year's recipients, go to the Kennedy Library's Web page at

The winning essays by Sand and Schmidley were selected by a by a distinguished bipartisan committee of national, political, and community leaders. John Seigenthaler, founder of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, chairs the fourteen-member Profile in Courage Award Committee. Committee members are Michael Beschloss, author and presidential historian; David Burke, former president of CBS News; U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi); Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund; Antonia Hernandez, president of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Al Hunt, executive editor of the Wall Street Journal; U.S. Representative Nancy Johnson (R-Connecticut); Elaine Jones, director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Caroline Kennedy, president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts); Paul G. Kirk, Jr., chairman of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine); and Patricia M. Wald, former judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. John Shattuck, chief executive officer of the Kennedy Library Foundation, staffs the Committee. Mr. Shattuck is a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and a former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic.

Casey Sparks, a senior at Tualatin (OR) High School earned second place and a $1,000 prize for her essay about the political courage of U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA) who cast the only vote in the House of Representatives against the October 2001 bill that gave President Bush authorization to use any-force-necessary against countries responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Four students were also recognized as finalists in the competition. Joshua Dzieza of Charles Wright Academy in Tacoma, Washington wrote about Senator Russell Feingold. Kasey Lewis of Patagonia (AZ) Union High School discussed Alabama Governor Bob Riley. Matthew DeFinis of Reading (MA) Memorial High School profiled the late Massachusetts Congressman Joseph Moakley. Gretchen Halm of Lincoln-Way High School in Frankfort, Illinois highlighted the courageous actions of Senator C. L. Otter. Each finalist receives a $500 prize.

The winning students' nominating teachers were Geoffrey Cahn of Marsh Stern Talmudical Academy and Bill Topich of Pulaski Academy. They will each 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.

The John F. Kennedy 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 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.