Today, November 22, 2013, is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. For me and for so many others of my generation, it seems like just yesterday when we learned of the president’s death. Those memories are so strongly etched in our minds that we do not hesitate for even a moment when asked, “Where were you when President Kennedy was shot?” We know.
I was in my advance algebra class in high school, and, for me, it was like the end of a promise —-at least for those moments and days following the realization that Camelot was over. I had been in the presence of President Kennedy just a year earlier when then Senator Kennedy spoke at my high school in rural Wisconsin during the campaign leading up to the highly contentious Wisconsin primary. Jack Kennedy had come to town with his beautiful and sophisticated wife to convince voters that he was the right man to become the next President of the United States. For those of us who experienced his charisma and magnetism, we could not imagine anything else. We held our breaths when Jackie entered the assembly hall and walked the length of the hall in total silence before being introduced by a proud husband, and we hung on every word from a young and vital Senator, who spoke of hopes and dreams that resonated for all of us.
The Kennedy years brought promise to America. We were positive about the future, and we began to believe that anything was possible. We put a man on the moon, we sent Americans all over the world to help the less fortunate as Peace Corps volunteers, and we began to make progress on civil rights here at home. We started to believe that we could be anything we wanted to be and that we were not constrained by past notions and beliefs.
I suppose that was the time when I started to believe that I could be a lawyer just like my dad and that the possibility was not reserved for my brother alone. The Women’s Liberation Movement followed and continued the promise. Women like me went on to become doctors and lawyers and businesswomen, and we opened up even greater opportunities for the generation of women that followed. We lived out the dreams that had begun when a young would-be president challenged us to be all that we could be.
The lesson for today is not where I was 50 years ago. The lesson is to be everything you can be and strive to inspire others to do the same. Embrace every moment, make it count, and give back to your country. That is what the Kennedy Years mean to me.