Winners of the 2004 Profile in Courage Essay Contest Announced

For Immediate Release: April 6, 2004
Further information: Ann Scanlon (617) 514-1662

Boston — Will Schmidley, an 18-year-old senior at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Avram Sand, a 16-year-old junior at Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy in New York City, will be honored by Caroline Kennedy and other members of President Kennedy’s family during the May 24th Profile in Courage Award ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston for their prize-winning entries in the national John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest for High School Students.

The Profile in Courage Essay Contest invites students from across the nation to write an essay about a current political issue at the local, state or national level and an elected official in the United States who is acting courageously to address that issue. The award is named for President Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, which recounts the stories of eight U.S. senators who risked their careers to fight for what they believed in. The essay contest is sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and supported by Fidelity Investments through its Fidelity Cares program. The co-winners will each receive a $3,000 first prize.

A total of 2,208 essays were submitted by high-school students from across the nation to the annual contest which asks students to write a compelling essay about a U.S. elected official, past or present, who has displayed political courage and worked to make a difference in the world.

"Congratulations to Will Schmidley and Avram Sand on their award-winning essays and to the thousands of young people who submitted essays," said John Shattuck, CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation. "The essay contest fittingly honors President Kennedy who believed deeply in the power of the individual and the promise of our nation’s young people. It is gratifying to see how readily students today can identify and understand acts of political courage and their importance in our democratic society."

"Fidelity's commitment to civic responsibility is a long, proud tradition. We are pleased to support this contest to encourage student leadership and civic engagement. Fidelity Investments congratulates the winners, and all of the participants, for their interest in government, civic involvement, and political courage," said Doug Reed, Senior Vice President of Government and Regional Relations for Fidelity Investments.

Will Schmidley writes about the political courage of George Ryan who served as governor of Illinois from 1999 to 2003. Schmidley cited Governor Ryan’s courage in imposing the nation’s first death-penalty moratorium and altering his personal belief about capital punishment once he became aware of flaws in the Illinois justice system. Ryan had been a stanch supporter of capital punishment; his friend, Steve Small, had been murdered—buried alive following abduction from his driveway. Ryan believed that "some crimes were so heinous that the only proper way of protecting society was execution." But, in 2000, when several investigations revealed a system in Illinois riddled with errors from police brutality to forced confessions, Ryan imposed a death-penalty moratorium. In 2003, because passage of legislation to reform the state’s flawed capital punishment system would not be retroactive, Ryan saw it fit to commute the death sentences of the 167 prisoners remaining on death row, including the man who killed Steve Small.

In his essay, "Bernard Confer: Courage Within His Community," Avram Sand describes the political courage of the president of the board of education in Teaneck, New Jersey, who in the early 1960s sought to rectify racial imbalance in the town’s schools by creating an integrated central sixth-grade. A powerful citizens group organized to block Bernard Confer’s proposal and to oust him in the upcoming elections. Throughout the process, Confer and his family endured verbal abuse, threats of physical harm, and alienation by neighbors, but citing the school dilemma as "a moral issue" for the community, Confer never backed down. The 1965 election campaign was key to the success of the integrated, central sixth-grade. Confer and two other board members needed to keep their seats to protect the integration vote from being reversed and ensure that the class would be a reality. A massive get-out-the-vote effort got supporters to the polls, and the three were reelected by 2,000 votes. Once it was in place, the integrated central sixth-grade was accepted by the people of Teaneck.

Will Schmidley is the son of Eugenia and James Schmidley of Little Rock, Arkansas. A National Merit finalist, Will plans to play baseball at Dartmouth College where he will be a freshman next fall. He is president of the National Honor Society at his school and hopes to someday have a career as a sportswriter.

Avram Sand is the son of Arlene and Michael Sand of Teaneck, New Jersey, and the brother of Aryeh Sand and Elana Sand. Avram writes for his school newspaper and Currents, a current-events magazine. He organizes activities for the Zionist Club, participates in Model Congress activities, and is planning a career in history.

Will Schmidley, Avram Sand, and their parents will be the guests of the Kennedy family and the Kennedy Library Foundation at the May 24th Profile in Courage Award ceremony in Boston. Both Schmidley and Sand will share the stage with this year’s Profile in Courage Award recipients.

The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award is presented annually to public servants who have withstood strong opposition to follow what they believe is the right course of action. Past recipients of the award include former U.S. President Gerald Ford, U.S. Senator John McCain, U.S. Senator Russell Feingold, U.S. Representative John Lewis, California State Senator Hilda Solis, former Palos Heights, Illinois, Mayor Dean Koldenhoven, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, and America’s public servants who responded to the terrorists attacks of September 11, 2001.

The May 24th Profile in Courage Award Ceremony will honor Sima Samar, an Afghan medical doctor who ignored death threats and defied the Taliban for twelve years to provide Afghan girls and women with access to health care and education and who, after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, became the first woman to be appointed to a cabinet position in the interim Afghan government. Former North Carolina State Representative Cindy Watson (R) and former Oklahoma State Senator Paul Muegge (D) will also be honored with 2004 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Awards for their courage in standing up to the powerful hog industry in their respective states in order to protect the environment and the health and well-being of their constituents. For more information about the Profile in courage Award and this year’s recipients, go to the Kennedy Library’s Web page at

A distinguished bipartisan committee of national, political, and community leaders selected the winning essays by Schmidley and Sand. John Seigenthaler, founder of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, chairs the fourteen-member Profile in Courage Award Committee. Committee members are Michael Beschloss, author and presidential historian; David Burke, former president of CBS News; U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi); Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund; Antonia Hernandez, president of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Al Hunt, executive editor of the Wall Street Journal; U.S. Representative Nancy Johnson (R-Connecticut); Elaine Jones, director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Caroline Kennedy, president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts); Paul G. Kirk, Jr., chairman of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine); and Patricia M. Wald, former judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. John Shattuck, chief executive officer of the Kennedy Library Foundation, staffs the Committee. Mr. Shattuck is a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and a former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic.

Casey Sparks, a senior at Tualatin (OR) High School earned second place and a $1,000 prize for his essay about the political courage of U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA) who cast the only vote in the House of Representatives against the October 2001 bill that gave President Bush authorization to use any-force-necessary against countries responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Four students were also recognized as finalists in the competition. Joshua Dzieza of Charles Wright Academy in Tacoma, Washington wrote about Senator Russell Feingold, who in October 2001 cast the only vote in the U.S. Senate against the U.S.A. Patriot Act. Kasey Lewis of Patagonia (AZ) Union High School discussed Alabama Governor Bob Riley, who sought to change Alabama’s tax code in 2003. Matthew DeFinis of Reading (MA) Memorial High School profiled the late Massachusetts Congressman Joseph Moakley and his investigations in El Salvador. Gretchen Halm of Lincoln-Way High School in Frankfort, Illinois highlighted the courageous actions of Idaho Congressman C. L. Otter who was one of three Republicans to vote against the U.S.A. Patriot Act in the House of Representatives in October 2001. Each finalist receives a $500 prize.

The winning students’ nominating teachers were Bill Topich of Pulaski Academy and Geoffrey Cahn of Marsh Stern Talmudical Academy. They will each 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.