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

For Immediate Release: April 30, 2014
Further information: Rachel Flor (617) 514-1662,

Boston MA –The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation today announced that Ben Wolman, a freshman at Palisades Charter High School in Pacific Palisades, California has won the national John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest for High School Students.  Wolman’s prize-winning essay describes the political courage of former Colorado State Senate President John Morse, who in March 2013 risked his career to lead the passage of new gun safety measures.  Wolman will be honored during the May 4, 2014 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, 1,951 students submitted essays from forty-nine states, Washington, D.C. the Virgin Islands, along with U.S. citizens in Canada, France, and Korea. The essay contest is sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and generously supported by John Hancock Financial.

In his winning essay, Wolman describes how, as Senate President, Morse led the Colorado legislature to pass several measures regulating gun safety in a state deeply divided over the issue. With a majority of Republican and unaffiliated voters in his district, Wolman writes that Morse knew “he didn’t have a Democratic base he could rely upon if he took huge political risks.”  In addition, Wolman says, “the NRA and other gun advocacy groups launched a myriad of advertisements aimed at degrading and shaming Senator Morse.” Wolman explains that Morse’s actions were consistent with Kennedy’s definition of political courage. “Morse didn’t ignore his constituents’ opinions; he acknowledged them while also recognizing that what he did was, however controversial, justified and honorable, done to protect the same citizens who were speaking against him.”

Morse was recalled from office in a special election organized by opponents of the new legislation. Wolman concludes his essay with a quote from Morse: “We had to do gun control, and I said months ago, if passing gun safety bills cost me my political career, that’s an amazingly small price to pay.  The families of these victims have to pay a huge price every single day for the rest of their lives.”

“It is gratifying to see how readily students today can identify acts of political courage and their importance in our democratic society,” said Heather Campion, CEO of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. “We congratulate Ben Wolman for his extraordinary accomplishment.”

“We are proud to partner with the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and congratulate Ben Wolman 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 for President Kennedy’s inspiring legacy, and better understand the importance of courage, leadership and active civic engagement.”

“John Hancock congratulates Ben Wolman and all of the other talented students who submitted essays this year," said Tom Crohan, Assistant Vice President & Counsel, Corporate Responsibility & Government Relations for John Hancock Financial. “We are proud to celebrate President Kennedy's inspiring legacy, and reinforce to the next generation of leaders the importance of active civic engagement.”

Wolman will receive a $5,000 cash award from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation which will be matched with $5,000 from John Hancock Financial to be contributed to a John Hancock Freedom 529 College Savings Plan.

Ben Wolman is the son of Eileen Heisler Wolman and Adam Wolman, and has a twin brother, Justin. In addition to his interest in politics and social justice, Wolman devotes time both in and out of school to mathematics and science.  He placed second in C-SPAN’s 2014 student documentary competition with his film, “NASA Now.” The sole freshman on his school’s Science Bowl A Team, he is also vice president of his school’s robotics team. He participates in Junior State of America (JSA), is a member of the Santa Monica Amateur Astronomy Club, and plays bass clarinet in his school’s wind ensemble and piano at home.  Wolman served as a volunteer for the 2012 Obama campaign.

Wolman’s nominating teacher, Sarah Rosenthal, 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. 

Hunter Stires, a junior at The Pingry School in Basking Ridge, New Jersey was selected as the second-place winner for his essay on Thomas H. Kean, former governor of New Jersey. He will receive a $1,000 prize for this recognition.

Five students were recognized as finalists in the competition: Frances Asbury, a junior at East View High School in Georgetown, Texas for her essay which also profiled John Morse; Kei Fujisawa, a senior at Joseph A. Craig High School in Janesville, Wisconsin for his essay on Dale Schultz , former state senator of Wisconsin ; Justin Hunsaker, a senior at Skyline High School in Mesa, Arizona for his essay on Woodrow Mann, former mayor of Little Rock, Arkansas; Josue Moreno, a senior at Judson High School in Converse, Texas for his essay on Paul Bridges, former mayor of Uvalda, Georgia; and Gabriel Rosen a junior at Stuyvesant High School in New York City for his essay on Joseph Tydings, former U.S. Senator from Maryland. Each finalist will receive a $500 prize.

Three students received honorable mention, two of whom also profiled John Morse: Kyle Rinaudo, a senior at North Cobb High School in Kennesaw, Georgia and Gabrielle Simeck, a senior at Lake Forest High School in Lake Forest, IllinoisLeah Smith, a sophomore at The Park School in Baltimore, Maryland was recognized for her essay on Rose Bird, former California State Supreme Court Justice.

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

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 15-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 a strategist with Microsoft; 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; John Seigenthaler, founder of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt 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 fifth 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.  John Hancock Freedom 529 is a national Section 529 college savings plan offered by the Education Trust of Alaska, managed by T. Rowe Price, and distributed by John Hancock Distributors LLC through broker/dealers that have a selling agreement with John Hancock Distributors LLC. The plan offers a multi-managed approach, allowing investors to work with their financial consultants to pursue a strategy to maximize their investment opportunities while managing risk. 

The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation is a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization founded in 1984 to provide financial support, staffing, and creative resources for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration.

The Kennedy Presidential Library and Foundation aims to educate new generations about the timeless values that President Kennedy championed and their relevance today. Through on-going conferences, educational programming, and the use of cutting-edge technology, including the launch of the nation’s largest online digitized presidential archive, the Kennedy Library is bringing to life the challenges, achievements and impact of President John F. Kennedy’s thousand days in office for people around the world.