Watch the Award Ceremony
In an award ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Library on May 19, 2019, Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, her son Jack Schlossberg, with other family members presented the Profile in Courage Award to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Background for the 2019 Award
The 2019 Profile in Courage Award goes to Speaker Nancy Pelosi for putting the national interest above her party's interest to expand access to health care for all Americans and then, against a wave of political attacks, leading the effort to retake the majority and elect the most diverse Congress in our nation's history. More
In 2010, amid a public climate of deepening polarization, Pelosi tirelessly spearheaded the passage of the Affordable Care Act. The ACA has subsequently enabled millions of Americans to have access to quality, affordable health care, and improved benefits for tens of millions more; it was the most significant expansion of health care access since the implementation of Medicare and Medicaid nearly half a century before. Following its passage, Pelosi became the subject of negative political attacks from the GOP. Democrats lost control of the House in November 2010, ending her first tenure as House Speaker.
Despite facing opposition, Pelosi Illustrated her persistence and determination, as she set out to rebuild the Democratic Party in the image of America. In 2018, she led Democrats in electing the most diverse Congress in U.S. history – more people of color, more LGBT Americans, and a record setting 35 new Democratic women – including the first native American women and Muslim American women. With Democrats back in the majority, Pelosi elevated a new generation of leaders to leadership positions and skillfully united her party focusing on shared values, policy priorities, and a commitment to governing for the greater good. On January 3, 2019, Pelosi was once again elected Speaker of the House, becoming the first speaker in more than 60 years to win nonconsecutive terms.
In her extraordinary tenure as House Speaker, Pelosi has secured the passage of landmark legislation to expand access to health care, make historic investments in renewable energy resources, improve access to education, reform the financial services industry, and repeal the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that that barred gays and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. military.
May 19, 2019
As Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, Mom. I have the best mother in the world. Everyone says that, but for me it’s true. She does so much for me and my sisters, for this library, and our entire family. I learned so much from watching her represent the United States as Ambassador to Japan, where she brought her curiosity, humor and intellect everywhere she went. She and my father work so hard to make this library a vibrant institution and we owe them both another round of applause.
Thank you all for being here. This event is always a special one for me, and not just because it’s always the last thing between me and summer vacation – it’s also a moment to draw inspiration from President Kennedy, to carry on his legacy, and to celebrate in our time what he most admired in his -- political courage.
This is my sixth year serving on the committee and presenting this award, and in that time, we have honored two presidents, two Mayors, a Congressman and a Governor. Each made difficult sacrifices to put the national interest above their own, each represents the best in our politics. They were all courageous, they were all inspiring, and they were all men.
But tonight, we honor the most important woman in American politics, and a profile in courage if there ever was one –Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
When we think of political courage, we often imagine someone standing up for what’s right when no one else will, who does so in the face of intense opposition, and who then suffers the consequences – defeated, run out of town, but with their integrity intact and their conscience clear.
That’s one way to do it, but I like Speaker Pelosi’s model better.
A 17-term Congresswoman, and twice elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, hers is career of courage, spanning decades of change and challenge, inspiring hope and withstanding hate, delivering victories and surviving setbacks, all in service to our country.
We know her story well by now, but for anyone who doesn’t, let me briefly summarize she wins, wins more, makes history, and then does it again.
After working in politics for a decade, she was first elected to the House 1987, one of just 23 women elected that year. She’s hasn’t lost a race since. In 2002, she became House minority leader, the highest-ranking woman in Congressional history. In 2006, she became the first-ever female speaker, a title she reclaimed earlier this year.
While her political successes are historic, they don’t make her a profile in courage. Instead, it’s what she has done with it, the progress she’s achieved, the difference she’s made in people’s lives, the example of leadership that she’s provided.
She’s responsible for major legislative achievements, and chief among these is the Affordable Care Act.
There’s a reason why presidents had tried and failed to pass healthcare reform for more than 70 years – to borrow a phrase, not because it was easy, it’s because it was really, really hard.
Speaker Pelosi was critical in passing the bill. I always heard that, but I did some research to find out more.
David Axelrod told me in no uncertain terms:
There would be no Affordable Care Act without Nancy Pelosi. Period. End of story. When it looked in the winter of 2010 as if passage in the House was hopeless, she quietly, brilliantly navigated a narrow path to victory, painstakingly putting it together one vote at a time. She knew her caucus intimately; which buttons to push and how to push them.
That’s another thing I’ve always heard about Speaker Pelosi – that she’s the master vote-getter, total control of her caucus. She says jump, they say how high. Well, what’s her secret? How does she do it?
Here’s what I found out from her colleagues in the House:
She never, never, ever stops working.
She knows how to count. The secret doesn’t depend on some hidden technique. Her secret is, that she goes over and over and over the count herself, and if there aren’t 218, she starts all over, as if she has no votes. When that happened during the healthcare fight, she told her staff “give me the list and leave me alone.”
And not just on healthcare. In 2008, with the nation on the brink of financial collapse, she committed to President Bush that she’d provide the votes for the TARP bailout.
Just before that vote, she told her caucus. "The American people sent us here to do a job for them, and that we must do. We will vote today, and I don't want to hear how you cannot support this Bill because you may lose your seat in Congress. That is not why we were sent here."
Ultimately, as Congressman Kennedy told me, she believes political power isn’t to have and hold, it’s to be used to because government can make lives better.
Doing her job, not just keeping it, and demanding the same of others, that makes her a profile in courage.
But if all this weren’t enough, we have watched this year as Speaker Pelosi summons the courage to protect the fundamental character and promise of our government when others attack them openly, abandon them quietly, or violate them deliberately.
She is steadfast in her commitment to procedure, in her defense of the Constitution and in asserting the proper role of the legislative branch. She has met cynicism with optimism, mudslinging attacks with respect and substance, infighting with a commitment to her party, its values and platform.
Her discipline, focus and integrity stand out and raise the bar, setting an example for my generation to follow.
We are proud to celebrate her tonight, and I am honored to present the 2019 Profiles in Courage Award to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
And now invite her and my parents and sister Tatiana to join me up here.
May 19, 2019
As Prepared for Delivery
Before acknowledging those who have been part of my journey to this moment, I must first pay tribute to the President who inspired this award.
When we think back across the best and hardest passages of the past half century and more, we not only remember the singular presence of John F. Kennedy, but we can see as if it were only yesterday;
How the patriotism, brilliance, self-deprecating wit and the natural grace he symbolized and conveyed, truly did captivate and inspire our country and the entire world;
How he renewed our public life and the very definition of America itself.
Our presence now, and this ceremony each year, inevitably and pre-eminently honors him. That I too am honored with this award is something I accept with a full and humble heart.
So, thank you, Jack and Ambassador Kennedy. Jack, you not only share your grandfather’s name, but his spirit and his commitment to public service at its best as “a noble profession.”
Caroline, how proud your father and mother would have been to see your dignity representing America in Japan – to witness that glorious day when the people of Tokyo flooded the streets to watch as you rode to the Imperial Palace to present your credentials to the Emperor, and to witness America’s great compliment to Japan.
Thank you to Ed, Tatiana and Rose for being your own manifestations of excellence.
Thank you, Ron Sargent and Thomas Kennedy, for your leadership, and for welcoming us to this extraordinary place. Let me express as well my abiding gratitude to the Profile in Courage Award Committee.
I am happy to extend congratulations to Elazar Cramer on being selected as the 2019 Profile in Courage Essay Winner!
It is joy to share this celebration with those in my family who are my heart and my foundation: my husband Paul; my children Nancy Corinne, Christine, Jacqueline, Paul Jr., and Alexandra;
My grandchildren, Alexander, Madeleine, Paul and Thomas; their fathers Jeff and Mihiel – and my other grandchildren, busy with their studies but here in spirit, Liam, Sean, Ryan, Bella and Octavio;
Also, like family to me: Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and Senator Chris Dodd.
And I am pleased to be joined here as well by members of my official family in the Congress – including present and former Members of the Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Maryland delegations, including Congressman Joe Kennedy, who eloquently enacts in his generation, the Kennedy commitment to be a voice for the voiceless.
The Kennedy family has given so much to America’s history and to America’s future.
We remain in awe of the courage that is the Kennedy constant: their courage to accept the best and the saddest that God’s will has descended upon them and their courage to be a model of faith and hope –
Caroline, I especially remain inspired by the courage of your grandmother Rose, your mother Jacqueline – especially on this day – and by your courage, Madame Ambassador.
I prize the distinction of being associated with past recipients, who over three decades have been recognized for embodying that “most admirable of human virtues – courage.”
Among this legion of honor was my friend, the late Congressman Jack Murtha, a proud defense hawk, who was recognized for his courage to speak out publicly against the war in Iraq.
Before him came the peacemakers of Northern Ireland – John Hume and George Mitchell.
Last month, while in Ireland on the 21st anniversary of the Good Friday Accords, I was privileged to address the Dáil, the Irish Parliament, where I invoked the words that President Kennedy spoke in that very chamber in the summer of 1963:
“The supreme reality of our time is our indivisibility as children of God and our common vulnerability on this planet.”
What great wisdom: what appropriate guidance at this time. I repeat: “The supreme reality of our time is our indivisibility as children of God and our common vulnerability on this planet.”
I want to express in personal terms what this award means to me. When I was a girl in Catholic school in Baltimore, the Irish nuns from Boston would sing always the praises of the Kennedy family.
In grade school, it was they who introduced us to the book Profiles in Courage, which had such an impact on me, and on my generation.
In high school, I had the privilege to meet Senator Kennedy when he came to Baltimore. My father was Mayor, and I got to sit at the Head Table. Everyone was dazzled by his brilliance.
In college, I attended his inauguration and, on that freezing, thrilling day, heard his electrifying call to public service.
Never did I suspect then that, as House Democratic Leader, I would participate in a ceremony commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of that day, and hear the inaugural address in the President’s voice reverberate through the Rotunda.
And never did I expect that, as Speaker of the House, I would be given the Profile in Courage Award, then or now.
Profile in Courage. Courage is in the DNA of America: courage, and the optimism and hope that go with it, which are the shaping spirits of the American experience.
President Kennedy had that courage, optimism and hope when he pledged to America that we would land on the moon before the decade was out.
When President Kennedy challenged America to go to the moon in his speech at Rice, he spoke words that, today, are our constant inspiration:
“The vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first.
“In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort.”
Today, these words are the preamble to our innovation agenda and our constant motivation to address the urgency of the Climate Crisis. President Kennedy knew that America’s success would take us beyond the moon.
Courage in the DNA of our Founders was manifested when they:
- Declared independence premised on equality, as no one had ever done before;
- Declared, waged and won a war against the strongest naval power on earth; and
- Declared not only a new nation but a “new order for the ages” – inscribing on the Great Seal of the United States: “Novus ordo seclorum.”
Imagine the audacity of their vision and their trust. It was not arrogance, but courage, that launched this historic experiment in democracy.
America has always been a place of courage: from the immigrants who crossed the seas to take a chance on America, many knowing that they would never see their homes again.
To the pioneers who crossed a trackless continent. That saga has its scars; but without their courage, we would not be an America from “sea to shining sea.”
To our heroes who protect our communities and our country: our nurses, teachers, parents; and our men and women in uniform, and their families and caregivers.
Personally, to my father – Thomas D'Alesandro, Jr. – who blazed a trail as one of the first Italian-American Members of Congress, and then the first Catholic Mayor of Baltimore; who would one day be sworn into the Kennedy Administration by the President in the Oval Office.
To my colleagues in the Congress who had the courage to elect me Speaker – the first woman Speaker of the House –
When I became Speaker for the first time, Father Robert Drinan, Democrat of Massachusetts, spoke to Members at a Mass the day before, at my alma mater, Trinity University in Washington, D.C.
He reminded us that our responsibility is to the children – urging us never to forget “Christ's personal love of children.”
“As I look around this church,” he said, “I see many people with conviction and commitment to their ideals. But what is important is the ‘third C’: the courage to act upon those ideals.”
In my public life, I have seen leaders who understood that their duty was not to do what was easy, but what was right.
Especially when my colleagues had the courage to support the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform that Edward Kennedy called “the cause of my life.”
Theirs too was a chapter in Profiles in Courage.
In their name, in the name of all who hold fast to an ideal in the midst of the storm, I accept this award. I do so with a word about what we face in these unprecedented years.
In the darkest hours of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine wrote: “The times have found us” – and today they have found us again to strengthen America. It is not about politics but about patriotism.
How fitting is it that this Award takes the form of a stunning, silver lantern: symbolizing the “fire that lights the world.”
Thank you for this award, which I will proudly display in the Speaker’s Office in the Capitol as a shining symbol of our obligation to meet the challenges of the times which have found us.
Thank you, God bless the memory of President Kennedy and the family that he loved. May we heed his words that, here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.
God bless you. God bless America.
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