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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The human stories behind our history

An update from Trey, a sophomore majoring in economics:

This class has been especially interesting for me because of how little I had known about JFK. This lack of knowledge is odd considering my affinity for history; still, before this class I knew little more about Kennedy than his death. And what I have been exposed to is fascinating. I have especially enjoyed the wide range of sources that we have been assigned. The volume of reading that we do in the course can seem overwhelming, but I find it very manageable because of the variety. I especially enjoy the opportunity to observe the differences in opinion that we come across in our reading. Professors Stone and Simon do a wonderful job of expanding on these differing opinions, showing us why they occur and who holds which position.

But this class has done more than shape my views on the Kennedys. Studying our history in such detail has led me to rethink how I looked at this portion of American history. My previous studies of this time period had been part of a class focused on the extent of American history, and thus it was difficult to dig deep into different events or read direct accounts of what happened. In this class I have been doing just that, and it has proven a chilling reminder of the humanity embedded in history. It is easy to reduce history to a list of events. But as I have looked closer at these monumental events, I have found the human stories that make up these events, and sometimes they’re hard to read. Sometimes I am shocked at what we have done and what we allowed to happen. But sometimes these stories remind me of the good in the world, and of what there is to love in this country.

In the same way, Kennedy baffles me. Just when I think I have him pegged I read or watch something that makes me return to the drawing board. At times it is frustrating, but I would have it no other way. The idea that a man as great as Jack Kennedy would be shallow enough to easily grasp is a depressing one. So I’ll keep grappling with him and with the past, hoping that I can learn a little something and do them one better.

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