The first place in the annual John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest has been won by Patrick Reilly, who is a junior at the Archmere Academy in Claymont, Delaware, for his essay on the former Delaware Governor Russell Peterson’s brave stand to preserve environmentally fragile Delaware coastal areas against corporate encroachment. The contest, which is open to high school students nationwide, celebrates the best essay about an act of political bravery by an elected official.
The contest is a companion program of the John F. Kennedy 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, 2,078 students submitted essays from all fifty states and Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the Marshall Islands. The essay contest is sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and generously supported by John Hancock Financial.
The winner will get a $10,000 scholarship, and will receive his award from Caroline Kennedy at a ceremony held May 7th at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.
The winning essay details Gov. Patterson’s 1971 legislative efforts to protect the state’s coastal areas from industrialization, despite pressure from lobbyists and the expectation that, as a former executive at DuPont, he would be supportive of further industrial development.
Reilly goes on to explain how Peterson’s Coastal Zone Act “took the nationally unprecedented step of declaring Delaware’s coastline and waters forever off-limits to new heavy industrial development.” Peterson faced anger and pressure from corporate leaders, labor, and federal officials. The State Chamber of Commerce opposed the bill, construction workers staged demonstrations outside his home, and the Secretary of Commerce claimed that he was “being disloyal” to the country.
Although the act limited Patterson’s tenure as Governor to one term, he remained steadfast in his view that he was being loyal “to future generations,” and his act of political bravery has kept the coastal area clean and beautiful and allows it to support both the fishing and the tourist industries to this day.