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 smu.edu/JFK.

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JFK’s lasting legacy

An update from Emily, a sophomore Hunt Leadership Scholar and Dedman College Scholar:

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last year and a half, let me fill you in —today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of America’s 35th president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Dallas will commemorate the event by hosting a ceremony in Dealey Plaza, broadcast simultaneously on video screens through the downtown area.

I am a student currently enrolled in a class examining President Kennedy’s life and legacy. When I enrolled last semester, I was overwhelmed with excitement. What better time and place to study JFK and his impact on a generation! However, enrollment in this class has caused great confusion in regards to the president and his lasting effect.

As in any great college course, we have been asked to question what we already know. We have critically examined the president’s life, policy, and decision-making, integrating sources from many opposing viewpoints, questioning the way Americans have made Kennedy a fallen hero. Do we love Kennedy because he was a great president, or do we idolize him because he was a glamorous celebrity? Is his lasting legacy a result of his strong leadership, or has his untimely death made us view his time in office with rose-colored glasses?

It’s weird for me to question any of these things. I would much prefer to live in Camelot, where Jack and Jackie are a beautiful family and dine with world dignitaries, imploring that we ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country. Looking critically at a figure so admired can be a bit disillusioning.

However, what I’ve ultimately seen in studying President Kennedy this semester is that his legacy isn’t dependent upon his time in office. It isn’t necessary to place his policies and decisions under a microscope to justify our obsession with him. Rather, he can enamor us because of his ability to inspire a generation.

When I told my grandfather about the class I was taking, he lit up immediately. He recalled the moment he heard about the president’s death: he was driving home, heard the news on the radio, and he had to pull over to pull himself together. My grandpa’s emotional response was startling to me, but it made me realize that what makes President Kennedy’s legacy is his ability to inspire hope in others. We should celebrate him for the way he brought us hope in the future and faith in our nation.

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