Essay Contest Profiles In Courage For Our Time

Where Are They Now: Michael Sloyer, 2003 Profile in Courage Essay Contest Winner

This series profiles past winners of the Profile in Courage Essay Contest — which is currently open for submissions from U.S. high school students, with a $10,000 first prize scholarship. Our deadline is January 6th.

You were a first-place winner of the 2003 Profile in Courage Essay Contest. Tell us about that experience. What drew you to the contest? What was most rewarding about the experience? Most challenging?

The experience of winning the 2003 Profile in Courage Essay Contest was exhilarating. My 11th grade English teacher, Mr. Becker, encouraged me to enter the contest, and I jumped at the opportunity to learn about and be inspired by a topic (the Vietnam War) I did not know much about at the time.

Both the most rewarding and challenging experience for me was when Senator Ted Kennedy, in a room full of a hundred people at the awards ceremony, including members of the Kennedy family and other accomplished politicians, put me on the spot to make a speech about what I thought were the parameters and justifications for authorizing an invasion of another country. I had written about this topic as it related to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution during the Vietnam War in my essay, and there we were in 2003, when the justifications for the Iraq invasion were actively being debated in Congress and in the media. Needless to say it was a hot button issue for all those in the room, so I was naturally quite nervous as I got up to tell everyone what I thought about the topic. The speech was a blur for me with adrenaline taking full control, but I must have said something that they agreed with because I got a big round of applause after finishing the speech.

What are you doing at the moment? What is most important about it? Is there a particular idea, topic, or issue that is driving your work and thinking at the moment?

I currently live in Tokyo and work for Goldman Sachs as an equity derivatives trader. As a trader, I have the opportunity to think about and react to some of the most important political, social, and economic issues of our time. Although the stress levels can get elevated at times, I wake up (almost) every morning with an excitement for the start of the trading day, and for that, I feel extremely grateful.

In my free time, I am pursuing my passion to help people live more fulfilling, self-expressed, and meaningful lives by working with a New York based startup called Upbuild, which offers classes and workshops in both personal and organizational development. The work is focused on building environments of trust by helping people understand their own motivations and fears and the motivations and fears of those around them.

I am also a photographer in my free time, with a particular focus on and passion for spontaneous street photography. I recently published a photography book called “Life Living Life” and hosted a photography exhibition in Hong Kong by the same name.

What impact did participating in (and winning) the Profile in Courage Essay Contest have on you?

Participating and winning the Profile in Courage Essay Contest really opened up my eyes to just how crazy and dangerous having courage can actually be. When we separate ourselves from the crowd, particularly in a public forum like politics, we open ourselves up to criticism, failure, and hostility from others. I have always had a fear of failure and fear of not being good enough, and for me personally, having courage often means coming face to face with those fears. It can be quite scary, but my experience in the Profile in Courage Essay Contest showed me just how rewarding and important having real courage can be. 

What advice would you give to potential Profile in Courage Essay Contest participants?

My advice is to heed the advice of Andrew Jackson. “One man with courage makes a majority.” For the contest, write about something that no one else would write about. And for the rest of your life, pursue things that no one else around you is pursuing. Be vulnerable with the people in your life. They are looking for same kind of authentic human connection that you are looking for. Although it may be scary and can put you at risk, just like being courageous in the political arena, you will find that being vulnerable will be one of the most rewarding, inspirational, and impactful things you can do.

If you’re a U.S. high school student or have a friend or family member who is one, let them know about the Profile in Courage Essay Contest. There’s still time to submit — our deadline is January 6th.

PROFILES IN COURAGE FOR OUR TIME

Caroline Kennedy-Schlossberg, Editor . Hyperion $23.95 (354p) ISBN 978-0-7868-6793-6

In 1957, then-senator John F. Kennedy won a Pulitzer Prize for Profiles in Courage. In 1990, the Kennedy family resurrected the concept and established the Profiles in Courage Award for selfless public service. Now, in this expertly packaged anthology, Caroline Kennedy and over a dozen prominent writers bring the sacrifices of those award winners to life. Some essays address famous leaders like the Good Friday peacemakers in Ireland and campaign-finance-reform stalwarts John McCain and Russell Feingold. Others hail lesser-known local officials, like school superintendent Corkin Cherubini, who braved a firestorm to end race-based tracking in Georgia. All the winners acted with a rare breed of selfless courage—but sometimes this courage came at a terrible cost. U.S. Representative Carl Elliot Sr. was chased out of office in 1964 because he fought segregation in Alabama; by the time he won the first Profile in Courage Award, he was living alone in a ramshackle house, confined to a wheelchair by diabetes and hounded by creditors. Kennedy has assembled an impressive roster of writers to compose these mostly inspirational stories: Michael Beschloss, Anna Quindlen, Albert R. Hunt. The most audacious essay in the collection belongs to Bob Woodward, who reverses 25 years of conventional wisdom in arguing that former president Gerald Ford should be applauded for his pardon of Richard Nixon after Watergate. Of course, not all of the essays have the same level of distinction, but all share the same Kennedy spirit. Unabashedly liberal and pro-government, this collection is a stirring look at people who rarely thought about what they could do for themselves, but always about what they could do for their country. (May)

Reviewed on: 04/08/2002
Release date: 05/01/2002

Hardcover - 978-0-7868-7824-6

Hardcover - 517 pages - 978-0-7862-4563-5

Paperback - 374 pages - 978-0-7868-8678-4

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