President John F. Kennedy had a tremendous influence in my life, but on this day fifty years ago when his life was cut short by an assassin’s rifle, I was oblivious to this fact. I was nineteen and enjoying my freshman year in college in Louisville, Kentucky. Like today, it was a Friday and like so many other people who remember where they were when they heard the news, I was in an afternoon class when someone walked in, and whispered into the professor’s ear. After a pause, it was announced that the President had been shot and was dead. Class was cancelled. It was the last scheduled day of classes before Thanksgiving break. I had a plane reservation the next morning to fly from Louisville to Philadelphia with a connection in Washington DC.. I remember vividly that terrible Saturday walking through then DC terminal, no music, no one talking; a hush throughout the entire airport; people were in shock.
Collectively as citizens of not just a country, but of a world, we were glued to the TV and watched in horror when, two days later the prime suspect was shot to death in front of our eyes. The only other time the entire nation was united while simultaneously, and this time happily watching TV , was when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in July, 1969. So yes, fifty years later we commemorate the passing of a young leader who promised great things and symbolized for a brief period in our history, something nicknamed Camelot.
Kennedy’s real impact on me was for the first time I was interested in politics. I followed the news and watched his press conferences; such intelligence and humor. It was marvelous. After a stint in the military and odd jobs, I landed in upstate New York and eventually was hired by a state agency. I was thrilled to be a government employee. A year later I joined the staff on a legislative finance committee. I was surrounded every day by intelligent, committed young people who worked out differences of philosophy to produce policy, regulations, and laws that were intended to make New York a better state in which to live. If not for Kennedy, I probably would have chosen another career path. I never would have met my current wife, and my entire life would have turned out differently. Such idealism is lost on today’s younger generation. Elected officials and public employees working toward a common good. That sentiment is laughable in today’s political climate. But there was such a time, and I am happy that I was alive to feel and remember it.
” Ask every person if he’s heard the story, and tell it strong and clear if he has not,
That once there was fleeting wisp of glory, called Camelot”