Margo Balboni, 2009 Profile In Courage Essay Contest Award Winner

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

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Read the 2009 winning essay by Margo Balboni. (pdf)

Boston, MA- The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation announced today that Margo Balboni, a junior at Rockport High School in Rockport, Massachusetts, has won the national John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest for High School Students™. Balboni will be honored by Caroline Kennedy during the May 18, 2009 Profile in Courage Award ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston for her prize-winning essay describing Baltimore City Councilman Nicholas D’Adamo’s courageous efforts to pass legislation affording certain legal rights to gay constituents.

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 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 1,464 students submitted essays from across the nation, including forty-nine states and American citizens studying in Canada, Guam, and Puerto Rico. The essay contest is sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and generously supported by Fidelity Investments.

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

In Balboni’s winning essay, City Councilman Nicholas D’Adamo, she describes how D’Adamo changed his personal views on gay rights after listening to the experiences of gay constituents in his district. As a practicing Roman Catholic, representing a largely Catholic district, D’Adamo risked his career when he introduced a bill that would give gay partners hospital, prison, and funeral rights. He faced outrage from some family members and many of his constituents who strongly disagreed with his proposed legislation. Although the controversial bill D’Adamo submitted was withdrawn in 2003, Baltimore’s City Council adopted a resolution on March 17, 2008 that encouraged the Maryland legislature to allow same-sex marriage. Balboni writes that “it was Nicholas D’Adamo who paved the way for the new bill by taking a courageous stand for an unpopular cause.” [Editor’s note: copy of the winning essay attached.]

“Margo Balboni’s decision to profile City Councilman D’Adamo shows an impressive understanding of political courage and its importance in our democratic society.” said Al Hunt, Chairman of the Profile in Courage Award Committee. “This 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. We congratulate Margo on her achievement.”

“Fidelity congratulates Margo Balboni and all of the contest participants," said Doug Reed, Senior Vice President of Regional Management and Public Affairs for Fidelity Investments. "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.”

Balboni will receive a $5,000 award for her first place essay. She and her family will be the guests of the Kennedy family and the Kennedy Library Foundation at the May 18th Profile in Courage Award ceremony in Boston, where Balboni will share the stage with this year’s Profile in Courage Award recipients, Sheila Bair, chair of the FDIC, Brooksley Born, former chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee and the many women who worked with her in pushing for peace in their country.

Margo Balboni is the daughter of Marianne Sheridan and Lawrence Balboni. Her older sister, Katryna, is a freshman at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Balboni decided to enter the contest because she had heard about the book, Profiles in Courage, and thought that writing the essay would be an ideal opportunity to learn more about the leaders whose courage President Kennedy admired. After an extensive search of local newspaper articles across the country, she discovered Nicholas D’Adamo’s story and was moved by his courageous action.

Balboni serves as editor-in-chief of Rockport High School’s newspaper and is involved in several social action initiatives, both in school and in the larger community. She and is co-founder and co-president of her school’s Environmental Club. She also organizes fundraisers and educational programs about Darfur and is spearheading a campaign to bring a healthier menu to her school. Balboni has studied French and Spanish and plans to major in international relations. She hopes to volunteer with the Peace Corps after college.

Balboni’s nominating teacher, Mary Ellen Hart of Rockport High School, 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.

Christine Boyer, a sophomore at the Turkey Valley Community School in Jackson Junction, Iowa, was selected as the second place winner in this year’s contest for her essay on former member of the Des Moines School Board Jonathan Wilson. She will receive a $1000 prize for this recognition.

Five students were also recognized as finalists in the competition. Those students are: Emily Flesch, a senior at Hermantown High School in Hermantown, Minnesota, who wrote about U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone; Susannah Jacob, a senior at Plano West Senior High School in Plano, Texas, for her essay on Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins; William Glidden, a junior at Suffield Academy in Suffield, Connecticut, who wrote about Massachusetts’ Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe; Zhaokun Ma, a junior at Shaker High School in Latham, New York, who wrote about former Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley and Hinh Tran, a senior at Monte Vista High School in Danville, California, who wrote about former U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee. Each finalist will receive a $500 prize.

Three students received honorable mention: Eric Dixon, a senior at Karns High School in Knoxville, Tennessee, for his essay on former Tennessee Governor Frank Clement; Mpaza Kapembwa, a sophomore at Cross Keys High School in Atlanta, Georgia, for his essay on U.S. Senator Russell Feingold; and Alison Podlaski, a senior at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for her essay on U.S. Senator Vance Hartke.

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 Balboni was chosen by a distinguished bipartisan committee of national, political, and community leaders. Al Hunt, Washington managing editor of Bloomberg News, chairs the twelve-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 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., chairman of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; John Seigenthaler, founder of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University; 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.

Fidelity first began supporting the national essay contest in 2001. Students and teachers who participate in the Profile in Courage Essay Contest also benefit from two other generous in-kind donations. HarperCollins Publishers has donated copies of Profiles in Courage, President Kennedy’s Pulitzer-Prize winning book, and Hyperion Books has donated copies of Caroline Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage for Our Time, a book of 13 narrative essays exploring the political courage of the Profile in Courage Award recipients since its establishment in 1989. Copies of the two books have been distributed to teachers and schools to enrich classroom teaching and curriculum projects, as well as to encourage students to enter the Profile in Courage Essay Contest.

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.