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

For Immediate Release: April 26, 2010
Further information: Rachel Day (617) 514-1662, rachel.day@jfklfoundation.org

Boston, MA—The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation today announced that Michael Reed, a junior at Chattanooga Center for Creative Arts in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has won the national John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest for High School Students™. Reed will be honored by Caroline Kennedy during the May 24, 2010 Profile in Courage Award ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston for his prize-winning essay on U.S. Congressman Ken Hechler from West Virginia, who in 1969 defied powerful interests in his coal-producing state to pass legislation protecting the health and safety of miners. Reed will receive a $10,000 award for his first place essay.

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 1,863 students submitted essays from across the nation, including forty-nine states and U.S. citizens studying in Guam and Mexico. The essay contest is sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and generously supported by John Hancock Financial.

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

In his winning essay, “Ken Hechler: Hell-Raiser in Coal Country,” Reed recounts that after a deadly explosion at a coal mine in Farmington, West Virginia, Congressman Hechler “vowed to find a way to require the coal industry to place the health and safety of miners above profit.”  He “openly criticized” coal executives for disregarding safety standards and attacked the United Mine Workers for its disingenuous efforts to protect miners. Hechler’s unwavering commitment to reform health and safety practices at coal mines rankled some of the most powerful interests in his state. Coal executives wrote angry letters, fellow legislators aligned themselves with the coal industry against him, miners harassed him at his office in Washington, and FBI records document an attempt on his life. Hechler persisted despite these obstacles and his courageous efforts led to the successful passage of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969. 

[Click here to read the winning essay] 

“Michael Reed’s profile of Congressman Ken Hechler is extremely well-written, and displays an impressive understanding of political courage and its importance in our democracy,” said David McKean, Chief Executive Officer of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. “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 Michael on his achievement.”

“John Hancock congratulates Michael Reed and all of the contest participants," said Carol Fulp, Sr. Vice President, Brand Communications & Corporate Social Responsibility for John Hancock Financial. “John Hancock’s commitment to education and civic responsibility is a long, proud tradition. We are pleased to support this contest to encourage student leadership and civic engagement.”

Reed 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. He and his family will be the guests of the Kennedy family and the Kennedy Library Foundation at the May 24th Profile in Courage Award ceremony in Boston.  Reed will share the stage with this year’s Profile in Courage Award recipients, four California state legislators who will be recognized for the political courage each demonstrated in standing up to the extraordinary constituent and party pressure they faced while working with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to address California's severe financial crisis:  California State Assembly Member Karen Bass, California State Senator Dave Cogdill, California State Senator Darrell Steinberg, and California State Assembly Member Mike Villines.

Michael Reed is the son of Janetta and Bruce Reed and has an older sister, Jennifer. Reed was first introduced to coal mining controversies during a summer program at the Highlander Center for Education and Research in New Market, Tennessee. Through his own research he learned about Congressman Hechler, who, at the age of 94, was arrested in a 2009 protest against Massey Energy Company (the same company involved in the April 5, 2010, explosion in which at least 29 miners were killed.) When Reed discovered the Profile in Courage Essay Contest through an internet search, he knew right away that Hechler would be his essay subject.

“Writing,” Reed reports, “is one of my passions.” A communications major at a fine arts magnet school, he works on both the arts magazine and the literary magazine.  He is a staff reporter for the teen section of Chattanooga’s daily newspaper, the Times Free Press and serves as president of the Teen Advisory Board for the city’s library system.  Deeply interested in history, Reed has participated in National History Day several times and one of his projects was exhibited at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.  He was Tennessee’s Youth Ambassador to the Jamestown 400th Anniversary Celebration and has received awards for documentaries he has made.

Reed’s nominating teacher, Sandra Reagan of Chattanooga Center of Creative Arts, 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.

Eric Keen, a home-schooled sophomore from Bethesda, Maryland, was selected as the second- place winner in this year’s contest for his essay on former U.S. Congressman from Arkansas Brooks Hays. He will receive a $1000 prize for this recognition.

Five students were also recognized as finalists in the competition. Those students are: Jessie Giguiere, a senior at Middleton High School in Middleton, Idaho, for her essay on former U.S. Senator Frank Church of Idaho; Beth Green, a freshman at Solomon Schechter School in Hartsdale, New York, for her essay on former U.S. Congressman John H. Krebs of California; Sarah Kusisto, a senior at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, who wrote about former Fort Wayne City Councilman John Crawford; Elena Perry, a senior at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Maryland, who wrote about U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California; Merrill Steeg, a junior at Louise S. McGehee School in New Orleans, Louisiana, for her essay on former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu.  Each finalist will receive a $500 prize.

Three students received honorable mention: Gita Bhattacharya, a sophomore at Troy High School in Fullerton, California, who wrote about former U.S. Congressman Alphonzo Bell of California; and Kelly Miller, a senior at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for her essay on U.S. Congressman Joseph Cao: and Brendan Toole, a junior at Don Bosco Preparatory High School in Ramsey, New Jersey, for his essay on U.S. Congressman Patrick J. Murphy of Pennsylvania.

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 was chosen by a distinguished bipartisan committee of national, political, and community leaders. Al Hunt, executive Washington editor of Bloomberg News, chairs the 13-member Profile in Courage Award Committee. Committee members are U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi); Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund; Kenneth R. Feinberg, Chairman of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; 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., former U.S. Senator (D-Massachusetts) and Chairman Emeritus of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; Shari Redstone, President, National Amusements, Inc; John Seigenthaler, founder of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University; David M. Shribman, executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine); and Patricia M. Wald, former judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. David McKean, chief executive officer of the Kennedy Library Foundation, staffs the Committee. Mr. McKean is the former Staff Director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

This is the first 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 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.