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

April 28, 2016
MEDIA CONTACT: Rachel Flor (617) 514-1662

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

– Winning Essay Profiles Former US Senator Howard Baker (TN)–

Boston, MA—The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation today announced that Zhen Tu, a junior at Eagan High School in Eagan, Minnesota, has won the national John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest for High School Students. Tu’s prize-winning essay describes the political courage of former U.S. Senator of Tennessee Howard Baker, who in 1978, while serving as Republican Senate Minority Leader, successfully led the Senate to ratify the controversial Panama Canal treaties. Baker paid a steep price for his efforts when he lost the bid for the 1980 Republican nomination for president. Tu will be honored during the May 1, 2016 Profile in Courage Award ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. She will also receive a $10,000 award for her 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, 2,070 students submitted essays from all fifty states and Washington, D.C., Canada, England, and South Korea. The essay contest is sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and generously supported by John Hancock.

In her winning essay, Tu recounts how Baker, a two-term moderate Republican “known for his willingness to make compromises,” took a stand as Senate Minority Leader to support the treaties signed in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter and Panamanian General Omar Torrijos. Tu explains that “plenty of senators and American citizens alike were strongly against ratifying the treaties” which mandated that the United States would eventually relinquish authority over the Canal to Panama. Baker forged a bipartisan effort rarely seen today to successfully lead a divided Senate through a contentious ratification process. Tu details the severe consequences Baker faced for his unpopular stand that ultimately “cost him the opportunity to obtain his party’s nomination for President in 1980.”

“It is gratifying to see how readily students today can identify acts of political courage and their importance in our democratic society,” said Kenneth R. Feinberg, Chairman of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. “We congratulate Zhen Tu for her extraordinary accomplishment.”

“We are proud to partner with the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and congratulate Zhen Tu on her 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.”

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

Zhen Tu is the daughter of Yanmei Jiang and Rongqing Tu, and has a younger brother, Timothy. She arrived in the United States at age four from China and attended the Milwaukee German Immersion School in Wisconsin until the age of ten. She started piano lessons at age four and has been studying with Distinguished McKnight Professor Lydia Artymiw at the University of Minnesota since she was eleven. An accomplished classical pianist, Tu won the Grand Prize in the 2015 Young People’s Symphony Concert Association (YPSCA) competition, resulting in eight performances with the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. She especially enjoys performing and sharing her musical gifts at community centers and nursing homes. Tu writes for the high school newspaper and volunteers at the local library as a homework helper.

Tu’s nominating teacher, Adam Copeland, 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. 

Shelby Brainard, a junior at East View High School in Georgetown, Texas was selected as the second-place winner for his essay on Charles Robb, former US Senator of Virginia. He will receive a $1,000 prize for this recognition.

Five students were recognized as finalists in the competition: Sophie McIntosh, a senior at Sun Prairie High School in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin for her essay on James Dressel, former Wisconsin State Representative; Zev Mishell, a junior at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School in  Deerfield, Illinois for his essay on Jerrold Nadler, US Representative of New York; Shiv Puri, a sophomore at Moline High School in Moline, Illinois for his essay on Ralph Yarborough, former US Senator of Texas; Samuel Ressin, a senior at James Madison High School in Vienna, Virginia for his essay on Peter Smith, former U.S. Representative of Vermont; Corin Wagen, a senior at Liberal Arts and Science Academy High School in Austin, Texas for his essay on Mark White, former Governor of Texas. Each finalist will receive a $500 prize.

Three students received honorable mention: Harrison Lippie, a senior at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Indianafor his essay on Angela Giron, former Colorado State Senator; Alexandra Rice, a junior at Ladue Horton Watkins High School in St. Louis, Missouri, for her essay on Olympia Snowe, former US Senator of Maine; and Mary Zhu, a junior at Nashua High School South in Nashua, New Hampshire for her essay on Betsy Markey, former U.S. Representative in Colorado.

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 Senior Director, CEO Communications at PepsiCo; 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; David M. Shribman, executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; and former U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

This is the eighth year of support by John Hancock, a part of Manulife Financial Corporation (MFC), a leading international financial services group with principal operations in Asia, Canada and the United States. Operating as Manulife Financial in Canada and Asia, and primarily as John Hancock in the United States, our group of companies 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.