November 17, 2004 - John F. Kennedy New Frontier Awards Honor Two Young Americans for Exceptional Public Service


Cambridge — The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and Harvard University’s Institute of Politics (IOP) announced the first recipients of the John F. Kennedy New Frontier Awards at a presentation ceremony at Harvard University on November 15, 2004.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy made the presentation of the newly inaugurated awards to Karen Carter, 35, a Louisiana State Representative from New Orleans, and Wendy Kopp, 37, Founder of Teach for America, a national non-profit organization based in New York City. The ceremony in the Kennedy School of Government’s John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum was followed by a discussion on public service with the two recipients moderated by veteran broadcast journalist and current IOP Fellow Kathleen Matthews.

The Kennedy Library Foundation and the Institute of Politics created the New Frontier Award to honor young Americans under the age of 40 who are changing their communities - and the country - with their commitment to public service.

The New Frontier Award presented to Representative Carter honors an elected official whose work demonstrates the impact of elective service as a way to address public challenges. The New Frontier Award presented to Wendy Kopp honors a non-elected individual whose contributions in the realm of community service, advocacy or grass roots activism have elevated the debate or changed the landscape with respect to a public issue or issues.

The two awards will be presented annually in the fall to exceptional young Americans whose contributions in elective office, and community service or advocacy demonstrate the impact and the value of public service in the spirit of John F. Kennedy.

Karen Carter, State Representative, Louisiana

In 1999, at the age of 30, Karen Carter beat out a diverse field of candidates to fill the legislative seat of Louisiana civil rights legend Rev. Avery C. Alexander. Her legislative district encompasses the heart of New Orleans and during her first year as a legislator, her colleagues selected Representative Carter as "Rookie of the Year." She made her mark as a rising star in 2004 when she authored and boldly won passage of a new law to reform the management of the failing New Orleans school system. Her efforts to pass the school reform bill spanned more than two years. While her bill was controversial, Ms. Carter won widespread acclaim for her dogged efforts to take on and win a battle for reform of one of the nation’s struggling public school systems. Representative Carter was honored with the John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award for demonstrating the impact of elective public service through her work to improve New Orleans’ public schools, and for serving as a role model to young Americans everywhere.

Wendy Kopp, Founder and CEO, Teach for America

While still an undergraduate at Princeton University, Wendy Kopp outlined her idea for Teach for America in her college thesis. Frustrated by the poor quality of America’s public school system, Ms. Kopp decided to create a national corps of energetic young teachers by using funds from corporate sponsors to recruit top college graduates to teach in the nations’ most desperate school districts. Since 1990, more than 12,000 exceptional individuals have joined Teach For America, committing two years to teach in low-income rural and urban communities. Teach For America now has 22 regional sites across the country. Wendy Kopp continues to serve as CEO of the organization she founded in college, and she continues to fight for a more effective education system in the United States. Wendy Kopp was honored with the John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award for elevating the debate about public education in the United States, and for showing young Americans how they can change lives through their own public service.

"I am thrilled to be part of this Award ceremony which honors two women I so admire," said Caroline Kennedy, President of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and a member of the Senior Advisory Committee for Harvard’s Institute of Politics, who made the presentation via satellite. "The New Frontier Award would have special meaning for my father. It brings together two institutions that bear his name and celebrates public service – the way of life he found most rewarding and noblest undertaking he could imagine.

"President Kennedy demonstrated that the New Frontier was not just a place in time, but a timeless call," Ms. Kennedy continued. "Karen Carter and Wendy Kopp have heard that call. They show us all that whether we pursue elective office or community service we each have something to contribute, and they have done so by taking on the most difficult and most important issue we face as a society – how we give our children the education they need and deserve.

"Karen Carter has shown that politics can have an impact on our daily lives," Ms. Kennedy noted. "She has worked through the legislative process to transform the educational system of New Orleans and Louisiana and serves as a model for public officials across this country.

"Margaret Mead once said, ‘Never doubt the power of a small group of people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.’ Wendy Kopp has sent forth a corps of young teachers who have transformed the educational landscape in this country and who will continue to make a difference throughout their lives," Ms. Kennedy concluded. I have seen them first hand through my work in New York City. I am thrilled to be a part of honoring these achievements."

"President Kennedy issued a call to all of us to do something for our country, but he especially encouraged young men and women to meet his challenge," said Senator Kennedy. "Whether it was running for office, serving in the Peace Corps or helping in one’s own community, he often said that ‘one person can make a difference and everyone should try.’ Today we honor two outstanding young women who not only tried, but also succeeded in bettering the quality of education for their fellow citizens."

In the public forum following the award presentation, Carter and Kopp were asked to describe what motivated them to give back to their community.

"I truly believe that youth and inexperience were my greatest assets because I just didn’t know why this couldn’t be done," Wendy Kopp said.
"Don’t expect others to step up in their time of need," Karen Carter responded. "We need pioneers. We need others to break through to that New Frontier.  And if we don’t do it…if not us, then who?"

The New Frontier Award is named after President Kennedy's bold challenge to Americans given in his acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention on July 15, 1960:

We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier…a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils -- a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats. The New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises -- it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride, not to their pocketbook -- it holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security…Beyond that frontier are the uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus. It would be easier to shrink back from that frontier, to look to the safe mediocrity of the past, to be lulled by good intentions and high rhetoric…but I believe the times demand new invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking each of you to be pioneers on that New Frontier.

Senator Kennedy presented Carter and Kopp each with a ship’s navigational compass in a wooden box bearing the inscription: "We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier…I believe the times demand new invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking each of you to be pioneers on that New Frontier. – John F. Kennedy."

A distinguished bipartisan committee of political and community leaders selected Carter and Kopp based on their contributions to the public and their embodiment of the forward-looking public idealism to which President Kennedy hoped young Americans would aspire. The John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award Committee is co-chaired by Phil Sharp, Director, Institute of Politics and former member, U.S. House of Representatives; and John Shattuck, CEO, John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, former U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic, and former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Committee members are: Jennifer Armini, communications consultant, former Communications Director, MassINC; Melanie Campbell, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, former IOP Fellow; Dan Fenn, Former member of President John F. Kennedy’s staff, and former Director of the John F. Kennedy Library; Trey Grayson, Secretary of State, Kentucky; Jackie Jenkins-Scott, President, Wheelock College, former CEO, Dimock Community Health Center; Elaine C. Kamarck, Lecturer in Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government; Rachel Kaprielian, Member, House of Representatives, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1999 Recipient, Dan Fenn Award; Larry Kessler, Founding Director, AIDS Action Committee, former member, National Commission on AIDS; Vivien Li, Executive Director, Boston Harbor Foundation; Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief, USA Today; and Eli Segal, Founding CEO, AmeriCorps.

The New Frontier Award is a continuation of the Fenn Award, which has been presented annually by the Kennedy Library Foundation to young Massachusetts elected officials in honor of Dan Fenn, the Kennedy Library’s first director and a former member of President Kennedy’s staff.

The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and Harvard University’s Institute of Politics both have their origins in the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Inc., a non-profit corporation that was chartered in Massachusetts on December 5, 1963, to construct and equip the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Massachusetts.

On September 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy wrote the Archivist of the United States to ask him to consult with White House staff and representatives of Harvard University concerning establishment of a Presidential library in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A month before his death, President Kennedy visited Cambridge, Massachusetts, and chose a site next to Harvard University for the Library. It was to be the place where the records of his Presidency could be kept and where he would have his office when he retired from public life.

Plans for the Kennedy Library began to take shape in December 1963, when Mrs. Kennedy and the other members of President Kennedy’s family decided that the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum should be the only official national memorial to the President, and that the project should have three parts: a Museum, an Archive, and an educational Institute that would carry forward President Kennedy’s interest in bridging the gap between the academic world and the world of public affairs.

The Kennedy Library Corporation raised more than $20 million for both the construction of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, and for the creation and endowment of an Institute at Harvard for the study of politics and public affairs. More than 30 million people from around the world, including school children, contributed to the fund.

In 1966, the Kennedy Library Corporation presented Harvard University with an endowment for the creation of the Institute of Politics. A living memorial to President John F. Kennedy, Harvard University’s Institute of Politics was created to compliment the work of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum by helping to inspire students, particularly undergraduates, to enter careers in politics and public service, and to promote greater understanding and cooperation between the academic community and the political world. 

In 1975, the Kennedy Library Corporation abandoned plans to build the library on the site at Harvard University originally selected by President Kennedy due to prolonged delays in freeing the site for construction. The Library Corporation selected a new site for the library adjacent to the Harbor Campus of the University of Massachusetts Boston at Columbia Point in Dorchester.

In 1984, the work of the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library Corporation was reorganized and incorporated under Massachusetts’ law as the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation provides financial support, staffing, and creative resources for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process of governing and the importance of public service.