History and Purpose

The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award was created in 1989 by members of President Kennedy's family to honor President John F. Kennedy and to recognize and celebrate the quality of political courage that he admired most.

The award recognizes a public official (or officials) at the federal, state or local level whose actions demonstrate the qualities of politically courageous leadership in the spirit of Profiles in Courage, President Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer prize-winning book, which recounts the stories of eight U.S. Senators who risked their careers by embracing unpopular positions for the greater good.

The award is presented each May at a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in connection with the observance of President Kennedy’s birthday on May 29.

The Profile in Courage Award is administered by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. A distinguished bipartisan committee named by the Foundation reviews all nominations, and selects the recipient or recipients of the award.

What the Lantern Represents

Profile in Courage Award Lantern - Kennedy Library Foundation

The award is represented by a sterling silver lantern, modeled after the lantern on the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy. The lantern was designed by Edwin Schlossberg and crafted by Tiffany & Co.

In his design summary for the presentation piece, Schlossberg wrote:

"We chose a ship's lantern as the most appropriate design solution for this award. The design of the presentation piece must be strong enough to enable it to become a clearly identifiable public symbol of the Profile in Courage Award. The physical presence of this piece should reflect the meaning and significance of the award. It must also be a handsome and elegant object; one which is distinctive, unique, yet easily recognizable. We believe a ship's lantern best meets these goals.

A lantern elicits immediate recognition, and evokes the shared cultural symbols of light and truth. Light is the beacon of warning, of safety, of hope in the wilderness. A lantern symbolizes the search for an honest man. It lights a dark path, illuminating the proper course. A lantern is in keeping with the profound message of the work,
Profiles in Courage, that a courageous person is one who is honest, has integrity, and finds his own path despite the darkness of outside pressures. More specifically, a nautical image — a ship's lantern — is chosen in homage to the courageous naval career of President John F. Kennedy.

The design is modeled after authentic lanterns from 19th century American sailing vessels. The lantern is full size, cast in fine silver with four glass panels. The text etched on two panels is an identification of the purpose of the award, and a dedication to its recipient. A quote from President Kennedy's book,
Profiles in Courage, is inscribed on another panel. A traditional nautical compass rose is etched on the fourth panel.

The sterling silver Profile in Courage lantern is a timeless symbol of humanity and a very special tribute to the man who inspires this award."