Matthew Waltman, first-place winner of the 2015 Profile in Courage Essay Contest.

Read the winning essay by Matthew Waltman.

Boston, MA—The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation today announced that Matthew Waltman, a junior at Dwight-Englewood School from Tenafly, New Jersey, has won the national John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest for High School Students. Waltman’s prize-winning essay describes the political courage of Tom Selders, the former mayor of Greeley, Colorado, whose stand on immigration reform cost him his bid for re-election in November 2007.  Waltman will be honored during the May 3, 2015 Profile in Courage Award ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. He will also receive a $10,000 award for his first-place essay.

[Click here to read the winning essay.]

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 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, to make difficult decisions in the public interest. This year, 1,913 students submitted essays from all fifty states and Washington, D.C. The essay contest is sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and generously supported by John Hancock Financial.

In his winning essay, Waltman recounts the story of how Republican mayor Selders took a stand on immigration reform after learning the details of a December 2006 raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs agents on Greeley’s largest employer, the Swift & Company meatpacking plant. In May 2007, the two-term mayor traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak with Congressional lobbyists about the harmful impact of the aggressive raid on workers and families in his city. Waltman explains that Selders “hoped to prompt meaningful debate about immigration reform and move the discussion past divisive, partisan bickering and toward constructive solutions.” The winning essay describes how Selders “faced tremendous political repercussions” for speaking out about the need to treat immigrants with respect and dignity. After an onslaught of angry emails, hate calls, and a mail campaign that misrepresented his views, Selders lost his reelection in November 2007.  Citing John F. Kennedy in Profiles in Courage, Waltman writes, “In the end, Selders’s refusal to ‘compromise away his principles’ on immigration cost him the election.”

“Congratulations to Matthew Waltman for writing such an impressive and inspiring essay about an act of political courage – the quality that President Kennedy admired most,” said Heather Campion, CEO of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. “It is our hope that through the process of identifying the political heroes of their own generation, high school students will be inspired to engage more actively in our democracy.”

“We are proud to partner with the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and congratulate Matthew Waltman on his outstanding research and writing," said Tom Crohan, Assistant Vice President & Counsel, John Hancock. “We hope all of the students who submitted essays this year now have a deeper appreciation of President Kennedy’s inspiring legacy, and better understand the importance of courage, leadership and active civic engagement.”

Waltman will receive an award of $5,000 from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation which will be matched with $5,000 from John Hancock Financial.

Matthew Waltman is the son of Noami and Peter Waltman and has two older sisters, Emily and Rachel. Emily was a Profile in Courage Essay Contest finalist in 2012 and encouraged her brother to participate in the contest. In addition to serving as treasurer of Community Outreach at Dwight-Englewood School, Waltman has participated in Student Government and played on his school’s varsity basketball team since his freshman year. This summer he will serve as a Peer Mentor for the International Rescue Committee’s Refugee Youth Summer Academy in New York City.

Waltman’s nominating teacher, John Deal, 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. 

Sang Jun Park, a senior at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana was selected as the second-place winner for his essay on Paul Helmke, the former mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana. He will receive a $1,000 prize for this recognition.

Four students were recognized as finalists in the competition: Sophie Desch, a senior at Saint Joseph High School in South Bend, Indiana for her essay on William McCulloch, former U.S. Representative of Ohio; Daniel Finkel, a junior who is homeschooled in Wyncote, Pennsylvania for his essay on Bruce Hanes, Register of Wills in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania; Elizabeth Kim, a sophomore at The Winsor School in Boston, Massachusetts for her essay on Tom Perriello, former U.S. Representative of Virginia; and Tatum Zsorey, a sophomore at Hamilton High School in Chandler, Arizona for her essay on Angela Giron, former State Senator of Colorado. Each finalist will receive a $500 prize.

Four students received honorable mention: Jenna Brown, a junior at Providence High School in Charlotte, North Carolina for her essay on Cris Eaton-Welsh, City Council member in Kennesaw, Georgia; Scott Fairbanks, a junior at Stuyvesant High School in New York City for

his essay on Raul Grijalva, U.S. Representative of Arizona; Stephanie Gemmell, a sophomore at Greencastle-Antrim High School in Greencastle, Pennsylvania for her essay on Arlen Specter, former U.S. Senator of Pennsylvania ; and Mila Kaut, a senior at Central Academy in Des Moines, Iowa for her essay on Tom Harkin, former U.S. Senator of Iowa.

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.

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

The winning essay by was selected by a distinguished bipartisan committee of national, political, and community leaders: Albert R. Hunt, columnist for Bloomberg View, chairs the 14-member Profile in Courage Award Committee. Committee members are Christopher Dodd, former U.S. Senator (D-Connecticut) and CEO, Motion Picture Association of America; U.S. Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards (D-Maryland); Kenneth R. Feinberg, Chairman of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; Adam Frankel, former speechwriter to President Barack Obama, now Vice-President of External Affairs at Andela; 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 of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; 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, Morgan and Helen Chu Dean and Professor of Law at Harvard Law School; Shari Redstone, Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of Viacom Inc. and Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of CBS Corporation; Jack Schlossberg, grandson of John F. Kennedy and student, Yale University; David M. Shribman, executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; and former U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). Heather P. Campion, CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation, is an ex officio member of the Committee.

This is the seventh 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. 

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The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation is a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization founded in 1984 with the purpose of carrying President Kennedy’s legacy forward.  The Foundation aims to inspire and engage both Americans and people throughout the world with his timeless vision of public service, civic responsibility, civil rights, scientific discovery and creative cultural pursuits and ideals of peace, optimism and service, so they may learn how to translate them into action. As a major part of this mission, the Foundation supports the work of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, whose core function is to collect, preserve, and make available for research, the documents, audiovisual material and memorabilia of President Kennedy, his family, and his contemporaries. Today, the Kennedy Library in Boston is one of the most visited of the 13 presidential libraries in America. Over 200,000 people from around the globe visit the museum each year, and the Foundation serves 25,000 students annually through a host of free educational programs.