Illinois’ first female attorney general and a leader of a Latino community service organization in New Haven, Conn. both received an award, co-sponsored by Harvard, that recognizes top public servants under the age of 40 yesterday.
Caroline B. Kennedy ’80, the daughter of the 35th president, presented the second annual John F. Kennedy New Frontier Awards to 39-year-old Lisa Madigan, Illinois’ top law enforcement officer, and 39-year-old Kica Matos, executive director of JUNTA for Progressive Action, at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library’s Stephen Smith Center in Boston.
The New Frontier Awards, co-sponsored by the Kennedy Library Foundation and Harvard’s Institute of Politics, are given to two individuals under 40, one holding elected office and one working full-time in community service and activism. Recipients “demonstrate the impact and the value of public service in the spirit of John F. Kennedy,” according to a press release.
The two past recipients of the award are a Louisiana state representative, Karen Carter, and the founder of the non=profit group Teach for America, Wendy Kopp.
Madigan was honored with the Fenn Award, named after Dan Fenn, the Kennedy Library’s first director and a former Kennedy staff member. Since taking office as the first female Illinois attorney general in 2003, Madigan has fought against fraudulent telemarketing, tobacco product marketing toward minors, and methamphetamine production.
The awards were inspired by the acceptance speech of President John F. Kennedy ’40 at the 1960 Democratic National Convention. Declaring that the nation stood at “the edge of a New Frontier,” Kennedy challenged Americans to “be pioneers” and embrace the opportunities that laid in the turbulent times ahead.
“His appeal was really very much to young people,” said Jeanne Shaheen, who is director of the IOP and co-chair of the New Frontier Awards Committee.
“He tried to encourage young people to get involved in government and public service. We think it’s important to recognize young leaders as role models, as the future leaders of this country who are working hard to change the world.”
Initially skeptical of what difference she could make in politics, Madigan was inspired by her work under late Senator Paul M. Simon, D-Ill. She later taught young women in South Africa and witnessed the effects of apartheid firsthand. She said that her time there motivated her “to pursue social justice and hopefully change the world for the better.”
“This award will serve as a constant reminder to me to chart the right course,” Madigan said.
Matos, on the other hand, started out as a human rights advocate for Amnesty International and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. Her work with death row inmates led her to focus on preventive measures that would discourage vulnerable individuals from leading lives of crime. Now, Matos leads the oldest Latino community service organization in New Haven, Conn.
“Lisa Madigan and Kica Matos have shown idealism, compassion, and hard work toward the public challenges facing this nation,” Caroline Kennedy said. “We need more people like them to guide us through the difficult times ahead. They are role models and inspirations to the young women, young Americans, and everyone who cares about our world.”
“I think President Kennedy is the perfect example of the way you can really change the entire world with public service work,” Matos said. “I would really strongly encourage young people to get involved in this because there’s nothing more meaningful and more rewarding.”
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