Generation Y Studies JFK’s Life and Times

Forty SMU undergraduates have a unique opportunity to capture the zeitgeist of a turbulent time as the nation prepares to observe the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22. SMU political science Professor Dennis Simon and senior English lecturer Tom Stone in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences are teaching a special course during fall 2013 that examines the life, times and legend of JFK.

The students and professors are blogging about their experiences here. Learn more about SMU’s experts and archival collections related to the presidency and assassination at

A volatile time in America’s history

An update from Kate, a sophomore majoring in psychology, with minors in English and business:

So far in Professor Simon and Stone’s class, we have discussed a lot of history relating to JFK and his family as well as to the time at which JFK broke onto the political scene. Learning the history of the time has allowed me to understand more about JFK as a leader. He faced numerous pressures from his family while dealing with a volatile nation. We have spent a lot of time focusing on the Red Scare. It is difficult to believe that as a nation, we were prosecuting each other. Every time we have class, I learn so much about one of the most difficult times in the nation.

I am interested in learning more about JFK. We have been setting the scene in which he led the nation. As we discuss information that we’ve read, it is very interesting to reflect on the different types of personas writers portray. JFK is a legend but a different type of legend to different people – to some he is a hero and perfect in every way, while to others he was a weak president with numerous flaws.

I look forward to learning more about JFK and our nation during a very difficult time. Right now, Dallas is a great place to be learning about JFK with all the buzz going on. I am learning so much outside of class, too, because the city is preparing to memorialize him once again as the date of his assassination draws near.

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Studying Kennedy as a person and as president

An update from Kaley, a sophomore biochemistry major:

I’m impressed with this course’s insight into John F. Kennedy’s life from every perspective. The material shows him as a hero who overcame adversity, a promiscuous womanizer, and a victim of circumstance. This class does a good job of being impartial and putting Kennedy’s life in the context of world issues, enabling each student to form his own opinion on John F. Kennedy and giving each student the resources to analyze Kennedy’s life from every direction and make his own assumptions.

This class has a heavy workload. There are lots of reading assignments to handle, but they are all essential to providing a well-rounded description of John F. Kennedy as a person as well as a political leader.

The most interesting part of the curriculum has been the assassination conspiracy theories. All of the pieces on John F. Kennedy’s assassination are believable. From the single bullet theory to conspiracies in the Mob, it is clear to see how no one is certain about the plot behind Kennedy’s assassination. I am curious to see what new insight is revealed when the files are released.

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Remembering the loss and the legend

An update from Rachel, a sophomore biology major and biomedical anthropology minor:

As I browsed the list of “Ways of Knowing” classes for the Fall 2013 semester, one class immediately caught my eye, “JFK: His Life, His Times, His Legend.” The name of the class possesses the same allure as the name Kennedy. My love of American history – specifically 20th-century history – spurred my interest in taking this class. I am so glad I enrolled.

The 1950s and ’60s represent my favorite era. The television, automobiles, advertisements, fashions, and the upbeat spirit that comes with post-WWII prosperity create an overall sense of the emergence of modern America, making it a time in history I would have loved to experience first-hand. John F. Kennedy fits perfectly into this era, defining it and America.

Our class takes a holistic point of view on Kennedy, examining his entire life, and the era of his role in government. Professors Simon and Stone teach the class with such passion and excitement for this topic. They utilize the holistic approach to provide us with ample information so that we can come to our own conclusions on JFK and the mysteries surrounding his life. We explore the writings of authors, historians, and scholars each with their own view on JFK, whether for him, against him, or anything in between.

I am excited to be a part of this class during the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. Though I have lived in the Dallas area my entire life and been to the Sixth Floor Museum for countless field trips, I am still entranced by the mystery surrounding Kennedy and his place in history. Arguably the most enigmatic figure in American history, John F. Kennedy has fascinated generations, and will probably continue to do so for many more generations to come.

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Who was the real JFK?

An update from Rianna, a sophomore:

I was honestly not looking forward to this class. I didn’t really know much about former President John F. Kennedy; I simply knew that he was assassinated in Dallas and that we had a museum about him somewhere downtown. I’ve also never really been into modern history… anything after 1900 gets a bit too political for me, and I’m just not interested enough to follow along.

But this class is so much better than I expected.

The professors, first of all, are amazing. Their knowledge on Jack Kennedy, his family, and various conspiracy theories is outstanding, and their enthusiasm for the subject is contagious. I never expected JFK’s life to be so full of complexity. Reading about him has become so interesting, especially since we have various sources that portray him in such different ways. In one biography, he’s a hero. He’s flawless. He’s charismatic and loved by everyone. Turn around and in the next book he’s a jerk. He’s a womanizer. The reader only sees his flaws. So which is the real JFK? I’m still trying to figure that out, myself, and that’s why I’ve come to like this class so much. It’s a mystery. It’s something I never considered studying and it’s become captivating, as I imagine JFK was to many people across the country during his time.

If this class is offered again, or if you have the opportunity to study JFK, I highly recommend doing so. I’ve heard the files on his assassination will be revealed in 2029 or somewhere around that time, but you can bet that I’ll probably be reading through those, connecting the dots from what I learn this semester.

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