I was sixteen the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It’s not important where I was. But it is important where I am today and why.
As a high schooler, I didn’t fully understand the impact of the loss. I actually wanted to go to a mixer that night. My mother said no. She was annoyed at the very idea that I would want such a thing. But just two days later, when Ruby shot Oswald, the impact of scary change began to settle over me. It wasn’t yet reaching into the elm-lined streets of my neighborhood, but it was subtly altering my life.
I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world. John F. Kennedy
Time Magazine proclaims this week that the assassination was THE MOMENT THAT CHANGED AMERICA. Yes. But the change was not all about conspiracy theories, loss of faith in our leaders, and a forgetting of the true purpose of the American promise. With Lyndon Johnson as president, our country went on to pass Civil and Voting Rights legislation as well as many laws under his Great Society vision.
In college, I became fully aware of the Supreme Court decisions that were shaping US law and providing equality in education for all citizens. The assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King had an even greater impact on my psyche, as I realized that helping our disadvantaged and struggling citizens was not and probably never will be a universal goal in this country.
As a teacher in a troubled high school and much later as an RN in a Chicago hospital, the fire burned even more brightly in me. One student still calls me on my birthday. Many of my patients let me know they listened to my advice about child rearing and followed it. I am blessed by those I have touched.
As parents, my husband and I used example to again light the fire, help it burn in our children. One daughter’s work and daily life is dedicated to saving the environment; our other daughter teaches creative writing to children of many backgrounds and is raising three children with open minds and loving hearts. Early on our son embraced the fight for gay rights, accepting and helping those who were struggling with prejudice in his conservative high school.
So today, the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death, I thank him and leaders like him for the intelligence, the vigor, and the dedication that in many ways has made ours a great nation. But we still have much to do. Let us abandon the “I’ve got mine” syndrome. Let us step up and let Kennedy’s words echo in our hearts and minds, move us to action: And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.
Thanks to Google Images and to me for saving the LIFE MAGAZINE issue.