BY LISA MARIA GARZA
REUTERS, NOVEMBER 20, 2013
DALLAS, NOV. 20 (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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
"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
years ago Kennedy had rock-star status among many college students who
were inspired by his call to do something for love of country.
boomers came of age in the post-World War Two 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
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
"As we're trying to figure out what we're going to do with our lives, it was a compelling moment," Bewick said.
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.
just a horrible moment. But it didn't deter anybody from what we
committed to do," said Bewick, who later became an environmental
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
(Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Prudence Crowther)