Everyone who was alive and a functioning human being remembers where they were when President Kennedy was killed. It was one week past my 17th birthday, and I was hanging out at the student government office with many of my friends. The Principal announced it over the sound system, and we were stunned, and in those days, confused. Why would anyone shoot a President who was so valuable to the nation’s happiness?
President Kennedy was young, and as far as we knew vital. We all wanted to graduate and spend time in the Peace Corps, or at least find a way to give back to the nation. Remember, we were the generation, who after the assassination, wanted to dedicate our lives to the cause of human rights and to the end of a war we all felt was an injustice.
But back to November 22. It was already a week past my birthday. So when everyone yelled “surprise,” in the basement of my house, I was truly surprised. And now when I think about it, my friends opted not to cancel the surprise party. And because we were 17, and without a sense of how really devastating the assassination was, we partied like we always did, without any sense of anything outside the periphery of our everyday lives.
Now, fifty years later when everyone is writing about where they were on the terrible day, it occurs to me that it is not important where we were. Because what is really important is that we lost not only the leader of the nation, but we lost the spirit of what this country could be if governed by someone who understood the potential of what this nation could have been.
There was no President who ever had the kind of favorable ratings that President Kennedy had. We were all convinced that he would not only guide us, but he would protect us against outside sources who want to destroy us. I remember that after the Cuban missile crisis we all covered our heads when we went outside. But there was never a time when we said, “this President is an idiot, what is he doing challenging the Russians.” Never. We thought if he was going to challenge the Russians, it was the right thing to do. And we would all follow his lead.
His lead… He was an inspirational leader and a man with a quick wit and a determination that we have not seen since. So yes, when I was seventeen, I was saddened by his death and the funeral and the devastation of the family.
But his death was the end of a dream we all had about the great nation we could be. After his death we were on our own to do what we thought was right, without much guidance,. But to do it with great hope and determination, and to make a better future for all of us and the families we were yet to have. We’re just sayin’… Iris