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

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violencei
X
Lenny Ruvaga
November 27, 2014 7:05 PM
The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid