Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  1. What do you mean by an "elected official"? What is the difference between an official who is elected and one who is appointed? 
    The contest requires that the subject of your essay be about an official who is publicly elected by the people of the United States. Representatives and Senators at the state and national level, mayors, and city council members are some examples of elected officials. The whole concept of political courage revolves around an understanding of the risks and pressures that elected officials face and the difficult choices that politics often present: choices between conscience and public sentiment, between moral principles and electoral success. 

    Supreme Court Justices and the Attorney General of the Unites States are examples of appointed officials, as are the 14 Secretaries that make up the President's Cabinet. The President appoints the 14 Secretaries from the executive department, who must then be confirmed by a majority vote (51 votes) of the Senate. Appointed officials are not elected by the people of the United States and therefore are not eligible subjects for your essay. 
  2. What is political courage? How do I know if an elected official has demonstrated political courage? 
    The contest requires that you write about an elected official who has acted or is acting courageously to address a political issue at the local, national or international level. Focus on what is meant by courage as it relates to politics and write about an elected official who has followed his/her conscience to the possible detriment of his/her career. 

    An act of political courage involves three elements: 1) an elected official who takes a stand based on his or her beliefs; 2) the actions of the official serve the public interest or benefit the greater good, and 3) the official’s stand is at odds with his/her constituents, or with interest groups instrumental to his/her success. 

    The best way to deepen your understanding of political courage is to read Profiles in Courage. In addition, our website provides many resources: excerpts from the first chapter of Profiles in Courage, stories of past Profile in Courage Award recipients, and Past Winning Essays. You can also review the criteria for judging to assess whether or not your essay describes an act of political courage. 
  3. Is the essay a biography of the elected official? 
    The essay is not a biography of the elected official. It is a focused analysis of an act of political courage that proves how the elected official risked his or her career to take a stand for the public good. You may weave in biographical information, but your essay should focus on the actions or political positions of the elected official and what consequences he or she faced as a result of those actions or positions.
  4. Can I write about current or past presidents of the United States? 
    Although the president of the United States is an elected official, and in many cases displays political courage, we recommend that you do not write about a current or past president. Judges carefully evaluate the subject of each essay to assess whether it is a thoughtful and original choice. We encourage participants to write profiles of subjects whose stories are less well known than that of a president of the United States. This is an opportunity to profile an official in your town, state or region, or a leader who has addressed an issue of great concern to you. (John F. Kennedy is ineligible as an essay subject.) 
  5. How do I know if an essay subject is an original choice?
    We recommend that you avoid writing about essay subjects on this list of most written about subjects. We encourage participants to write profiles of subjects whose stories are less well known than that of a president of the United States. This is an opportunity to profile an official in your town, state or region, or a leader who has addressed an issue of great concern to you. (John F. Kennedy is ineligible as an essay subject.) Refer to Past Winning Essays to see examples of original essay subjects (we recommend that you do not write about a past winning essay subject.)
  6. Why does the registration form require that I state the name of a "nominating" teacher? Who can I ask to be my "nominating teacher"? 
    The role of your nominating teacher is to provide you with support and advice during the writing of your essay. He or she is also required to read your essay before you submit it. If you should be selected as the first-place winner, you and your nominating teacher, as representatives of your school, will be invited to receive awards at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. 

    Your nominating teacher can be a former or current teacher who is currently teaching in your high school. Usually, students ask their English or History/Social Studies instructors to be their nominating teacher. In very few cases we will make an exception if a student is unable to ask a teacher from their high school to be their nominating teacher. The parent or legal guardian responsible for the instruction of home schooled students can also serve as a nominating teacher. 
  7. How long should my essay be? What is the minimum and maximum number of words required? Your essay must be at least 700 words, but no more than 1,000 words. 
  8. Are citations and the bibliography included in the word count? 
    No. The 1,000 word maximum refers only to the text of your essay. The words in your citations and bibliography are not counted. 
  9. Do I need to cite my sources and include a bibliography? 
    You are required to cite your sources throughout your essay and to include a full bibliography. If you paraphrase the thoughts and words of someone else or if you quote them directly you must reference the source in your essay and include a full citation of the source in your bibliography. A failure to cite your sources and to include a bibliography at the end of your essay will automatically disqualify you. Please refer to Guidelines for Citations and Bibliographies for accepted formats for citations and bibliographies. 
  10. How many different sources should I use to research my essay? 
    You must use at least five sources. Winning essays include primary source material such as government documents, speeches, and letters. They incorporate evidence from a variety of sources such as newspaper and magazine articles, information from reliable internet sites, books, videos and personal interviews.  In evaluating the reliability of a website, students should identify the authors and contributors. The best essays are those that have depth of perspective and are well argued and supported. 
  11. When will I be notified of the status of my essay and whether or not I've been selected as a winner? 
    All students will be notified of their status in writing by the end of May. The winners and finalists will be contacted by telephone and in writing by April 30.
  12. Will my essay be judged differently if I participate individually versus as part of class project? 
    In terms of how your essay is judged, there is no difference between choosing to participate individually or as part of a class project. On the registration form, only mark the box, "class project," if your teacher engaged the class in either a curriculum activity about political courage that culminated with the writing of an essay and/or had students submit rough drafts before mailing the final draft to the Essay Contest. Whether you participate individually or as a part of a class project, we strongly encourage you to submit a rough draft to your teacher so that s/he can read over it and make suggestions for improvement. 
  13. What is the Profile in Courage Award and how does it relate to the Profile In Courage Essay Contest? 
    The Essay Contest is a companion activity to the Kennedy Library Foundation's annual Profile in Courage Award, which honors elected officials who have demonstrated exceptional political courage. The Award was created by the Foundation in 1989 and the Essay Contest was created in 1994. The same Committee that selects the Award winner also selects the winners of the Essay Contest. Both the Award and Essay Contest winner are honored at the Profile in Courage Award Ceremony, which takes place in May at the Kennedy Library in Boston.