More than fifty years ago, in his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy spoke of passing a torch to a new generation of Americans. On Sunday, May 4th, that symbolic torch became a reality when President Kennedy’s grandson, Jack Schlossberg, presented the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award to Lauren Bush Lauren, granddaughter of President George Herbert Walker Bush. Lauren was accepting the award on behalf of her grandfather, who was unable to attend the event, at the award ceremony held at the JFK Presidential Library, in Boston, Massachusetts.
The JFK Profile in Courage Award is presented annually to public servants who have made courageous moral decisions without regard for the personal or political consequences. The award is named for President Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, which highlights the stories of eight U.S. senators who risked their careers by taking principled stands for unpopular positions.
Read My Lips
“Read my lips. No new taxes.” With those words, George H.W. Bush forged a 1988 presidential campaign pledge to the American people. When he arrived at the White House, however, President Bush faced a Democratic Congress and a growing budget deficit. He didn’t want to raise taxes, but he broke his pledge because “he felt he owed the American people actions and results,” said Lauren. Two years later, President Bush was defeated in his race for reelection. “His decision to put country above party and political prospects makes him an example of a modern-day profile in courage that is all too rare,” Schlossberg said during the ceremony.
In addition to President Bush, two more awards were presented. Paul W. Bridges, the former Mayor of Uvalda, Georgia, was recognized with the Profile in Courage award for risking his career when he decided to publicly oppose an immigration law passed by the Georgia legislature. Bridges, one of 12 children in a farming family, was visibly moved while accepting the award, which he called the “Nobel Prize of public service.”
Also honored was high school student Ben Wolman, from Pacific Palisades, California, winner of the national John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest for high school students. The contest was established to help high school students appreciate the importance of public service and the difficult choices government leaders often face in their careers. Wolman’s essay on Colorado State Senate President John Morse and gun control legislation was selected from 1,951 entries. He received a $10,000 prize.
Before the ceremony, TFK spoke to Profile in Courage committee member and former U.S. Senator for Massachusetts, Paul G. Kirk, Jr. He stressed to TFK that kids should focus on President Kennedy’s example of public life. “He wanted people to have a sense of civic responsibility and civic engagement for national purpose and to spend some chapter of their life doing something for the public good,” Kirk told TFK.
Often, that service commitment presents a challenge of courage. When that happens, in his book for which the award is named, President Kennedy directs us to look within ourselves: “The stories of past courage can define that ingredient – they can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this, each man must look into his soul.”