News / USA

    JFK: 50 Years Later, Millennials Cross-examine Boomer Veneration

    The funeral caisson carrying the casket of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy enters the White House driveway in Washington, in this handout image taken on Nov. 25, 1963.
    The funeral caisson carrying the casket of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy enters the White House driveway in Washington, in this handout image taken on Nov. 25, 1963.
    Reuters
    In a Dallas college classroom about six miles from where John F. Kennedy was gunned down half a century ago, members of the millennial generation have been learning why the assassination was a life-altering moment for so many in the baby-boom generation.
     
    For years, Tom Stone has offered a course at Southern Methodist University designed to teach students what matters about the Kennedy presidency and that fateful Nov. 22 in 1963.
     
    “Most students, it's fair to say, just know that JFK is the president who got shot. Beyond that, they're pretty much blank slates,” Stone said.
     
    This semester he has been co-teaching a special course with political science professor Dennis Simon to coincide with the 50th anniversary. One difficulty is how to convey the larger turmoil created by the assassination to students with no frame of reference for Cold War paranoia, the turbulent 1960s, and the romanticism attached to 1,000 days described as “Camelot.”
     
    “They don't know much about his presidency or why anyone would have wanted him dead,” Stone said.
     
    Many millennials - those who came of age after 2000 - will meet the anniversary with a shrug. Some may watch the Zapruder film of the motorcade on YouTube or follow the “#JFK” hashtag on Twitter.
     
    For Garrett Fisher, a 19-year-old student enrolled in the SMU Kennedy course, the occasion is a chance to reflect on a president who steered the nation away from the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis and whose personal failings included extramarital affairs.
     
    “Our professors are exposing us to different writers who show multiple images of him as a person, not just a president, and we have to interpret that for ourselves,” Fisher said.
     
    Stone and Simon have presented contradictory works about Kennedy's administration and encouraged students to examine various assassination conspiracies.
     
    “There are writers that make the case that JFK was a great friend of civil rights and others who say he dropped the ball on it. Some say he saved the world during the missile crisis and others say he brought it on himself with his recklessness in cold warriorism,” Stone said.
     
    Scott Reich, who wrote the recently released book “The Power of Citizenship: Why John F. Kennedy Matters to a New Generation,” said the anniversary is diverting the attention of younger Americans toward conspiracy theories and away from the enduring values of the Kennedy years. As boomers die off, it's questionable whether the younger generation will absorb more than what they need to regurgitate for a history exam, he said.
     
    “In looking at Kennedy's presidency, I believe we can learn quite a bit about our responsibilities as individuals and how we can work together to achieve big goals as he did with the Peace Corps, the race to the moon, and civil rights,” Reich said.
     
    A Call to Service

    Fifty years ago Kennedy had rock-star status among many college students who were inspired by his call to do something for love of country.
     
    Former United States President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jackie Kennedy sit in a car in front of Blair House during the arrival ceremonies for Habib Bourguiba, president of Tunisia, in Washington, in this handout image taken on May 3, 1961.Former United States President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jackie Kennedy sit in a car in front of Blair House during the arrival ceremonies for Habib Bourguiba, president of Tunisia, in Washington, in this handout image taken on May 3, 1961.
    x
    Former United States President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jackie Kennedy sit in a car in front of Blair House during the arrival ceremonies for Habib Bourguiba, president of Tunisia, in Washington, in this handout image taken on May 3, 1961.
    Former United States President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jackie Kennedy sit in a car in front of Blair House during the arrival ceremonies for Habib Bourguiba, president of Tunisia, in Washington, in this handout image taken on May 3, 1961.
    Baby boomers came of age in the post-World War II peace and prosperity that made the United States a superpower and saw its population increase by about 30 percent in the 15 years from the end of the war to the 1960 presidential election.
     
    John Bewick, a graduate student studying nuclear science, waited for hours to hear Kennedy speak at the University of Michigan during the 1960 campaign. While he discussed the concept of public service overseas, it wasn't yet part of his campaign message.
     
    “As we're trying to figure out what we're going to do with our lives, it was a compelling moment,” Bewick said.
     
    The Peace Corps was launched a year later under President Kennedy. Bewick signed up in 1963 and was preparing to teach university physics in Nigeria when news broke of the assassination.
     
    “That was just a horrible moment. But it didn't deter anybody from what we committed to do,” said Bewick, who later became an environmental consultant.
     
    ​There were 51 volunteers in the first Peace Corps deployment in 1961. Five years later, more than 15,000 people were serving in the field, according to Peace Corps data.
     
    The four days between the assassination and the Kennedy funeral transfixed the world. John Christopher, then a 10th grader in Fort Worth, where Kennedy's motorcade passed before going to Dallas, helped spread the news about the shooting.
     
    “I was paperboy for the Fort Worth Star Telegram and delivered five extra afternoon runs that day,” Christopher said.
     
    The morning headline of three benign words - “WELCOME, MR. PRESIDENT” - was replaced by the later edition's shattering five: “KENNEDY SLAIN, CONNALLY ALSO HIT.”
     
    Cynicism grew in the wake of the assassination, especially after many asked if Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone or if the killing had been in retaliation for a foreign dispute, said Jeffrey Engel, director of SMU's Center for Presidential History.
     
    Sorsha Huff, a student at SMU, often drives past the spot in Dealey Plaza where Kennedy was shot. As a result of the Kennedy course, Huff said her perspective on the president transformed from wholly favorable to more realistic as she was challenged to think more critically.
     
    “All heroes have their flaws and hidden faces - no one is a one-dimensional caricature,” Huff said. “JFK made mistakes. Our class readings force us to question the image that we've learned to love of this mythic president.”

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.