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Hannah McKinney '15

"The criminal justice system continues to punish long after the sentence ends."

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January 2017 Update

I am working in Boston as a project manager at a small software company. My sights are set on graduate school.  I took the GRE and now I am in the midst of evaluating and applying for graduate school programs – more specifically, programs in public policy and public affairs. After taking a year to get settled in the real world, I am thrilled to be getting back into the field of social policy.

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Hannah McKinney, an American Studies and History major from Ithaca, is our 60th JFK Award winner.

She received her award at the Cornell Public Service Center's annual awards dinner, where classmates Mike Newman and Carolyn Chauncey Newman were on hand to do the honors. It was a moving ceremony in which Mike reflected on the dark day in 1963 when we learned of President Kennedy's assassination and on the steps the class took to honor his memory.

Hannah's chosen field is criminal justice, in particular, prison reform. Her own words, reflecting on her volunteer work in prisons, tell it best: “I realized,” she wrote, “that the system continues to punish long after the sentence ends.” Hannah therefore plans a career in human rights advocacy, focusing on reducing the prison population, eliminating the death penalty, and addressing the racial and structural biases in the criminal justice system.

She is already well on her way, having volunteered at Prisoner Legal Services and Opportunities, Alternatives and Resources, both in Ithaca, and at the Auburn Correctional Center; working at Advocates for Human Rights in Minneapolis; interning at the ACLU; learning about non-profit work during her Cornell in Washington semester, along with many other on-campus undertakings.

Hannah received a fellowship to support her work with Advocates for Human Rights and was voted the Class of 2015 Award for Outstanding Achievement. She continues the long tradition of JFK winners who worked and studied abroad, in her case in a child care facility in Ecuador, and as a language student in Spain.

Hannah proposes to use our award to supplement the small income she will receive working for an advocacy organization.

The reviewers who selected Hannah singled her out for the thoughtfulness and passion with which she approaches her chosen life's work. One of Hannah's referees wrote that “Hannah has already proven herself to be a young trailblazer in a domain of public service that too rarely attracts younger people with public service commitments.”

On learning she was this year's winner, Hannah wrote to us: “I am honored and grateful to the Class of 1964. I have been lucky enough to come from a community whose unwavering support has led me to discover and follow my true passion. From running the Cornell Historical Society to spending the summer in Spain, my Cornell experiences have shaped who I am and undoubtedly, my future as well. I know that social justice has a rich history, but I am faced with a long road ahead. Thank you for believing in me!”

The Class of 1964 warmly welcomes Hannah McKinney as the latest winner of the JFK Memorial Award.

See the Cornell Chronicle's story on Hannah's award.