Remarks by Jack Schlossberg

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Thank you all for being here today.

I want to thank my fellow members of the Profiles in Courage Selection Committee, and all the people who work here at the library that make this day possible.

Today is a great moment for the library and for my grandfather’s legacy, but it is only one day of a long year. The men and women who work at the library and all those who generously give to this institution ensure that President Kennedy’s legacy remains alive and vibrant here every other day of the year, when there are no cameras here to watch them, but when thousands of people from across the country and around the world come here to learn, reflect, and find inspiration.

Since taking over my mother’s old job of ambassador to Columbia Point, this award has become quite meaningful to me.

Coming to this library, walking through the doors and past pictures of my grandfather, smiling and sailing through the sixties, to sift through a slate of candidates, each of whom made tremendous sacrifices for our country, to select the winner of this award reminds me that courage is not as rare as we may think, and that we ought to remind ourselves of the unsung profiles in courage that we encounter in our own lives.

Every year for 25 years, the Kennedy Library has given this award in recognition of political courage. Each recipient has symbolized the ideals and principals of service and sacrifice that my grandfather embodied as a man and as a president.

For me, this year is particularly special. I come to the library in a curious moment in my own life. If I pass my last exam on Tuesday morning, which is far from a safe bet, I will have completed my studies and will graduate later this month.

I will leave Yale and step out into a world that faces a challenge greater than any other before it– climate change. My generation has grown up with this disaster looming ahead. From the sidelines, we’ve felt helplessly frustrated as our leaders have failed to address this great problem that we know exactly how to solve.

Recently, as I thought about leaving Yale and entering the world as it is today, I revisited the commencement address my grandfather delivered at Yale in 1962.

It wasn’t his best speech – it’s very long and a bit boring, but for a Harvard graduate I suppose that is to be expected.

But two passages buried within caught my eye, and President Kennedy’s words help explain the special significance of this year’s award and the profound importance of the courageous stand taken by the man sitting behind me.

Speaking to the Yale crowd, President Kennedy said, “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived, and dishonest—but the myth—persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.”

This holds true with respect to climate change. Most Americans don’t believe the lie—a great majority believes that climate change is real.

Yet inaction is justified by the myth that climate change is too large and daunting a problem to solve, that individual nations are powerless because every nation is culpable, and that no one person can make a difference. We challenge that view today by celebrating one man’s tremendous political courage.

A Republican Congressman from South Carolina, Bob Inglis had once rejected the idea that human behavior was altering the earth’s climate. That changed when he traveled to Antarctica, where a group of scientists presented him with the evidence for man-made climate change.

One defining quality of leadership and courage is the capacity to listen and change. Bob deferred to these experts, and the undeniable evidence he saw for himself. He had courage to admit that he had been wrong.

Back at Yale in 1962, President Kennedy ended his speech with a call to action. He said, “There is a show in England called "Stop the World, I Want to Get Off." You have not chosen to exercise that option. You are part of the world and you must participate in these days of our years in the solution of the problems that pour upon us.”

Bob Inglis didn’t want the world to stop or to get off it. Bob Inglis did not neglect his responsibility. He chose to participate fully in these days of our years and to work for a solution. He recognized that climate change is only frightening if we choose to sit and wait and do nothing about it. He saw it as an opportunity for all of us to add a chapter to the story of American triumph and human progress.

He went back Washington, and broke with his party when he publically stated that climate change is real, and that America needs to do something about it. He proposed aggressive reforms even though he knew they would enrage his colleagues, his base and special interests, but he summoned the courage to push forward.

For Bob, the truth certainly was inconvenient. In response for his stance on climate change, his party recruited a Tea Party candidate to challenge him in 2010 and drove him out of office.

But this defeat did not discourage him. He continued the fight for sweeping federal action on climate change, devoting himself to the Energy and Enterprise Initiative and working tirelessly to advocate responsible reforms.

Bob Inglis defines President Kennedy’s vision for a profile in courage. My grandfather’s legacy is kept alive by Bob’s courageous decision to sacrifice his political career to demand action on the issue that will shape life on earth for generations to come. It is my honor to welcome to the stage a man with vision, courage and resolve: the winner of the 2015 Profiles in Courage Award, Bob Inglis.