I was a third grader at Saint Philip Neri Elementary Schoolin Chicago, Illinois, when the principal’s voice came over the public address system, announcing that President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. She asked all the classes to stop what they were doing and join in prayer for our president. It was just after 10:30 in the morning, exactly 50 years ago today.
For a split second, everyone in our class froze in confusion and disbelief. Our teacher, Mrs. Tormey, was the first to cry, and the rest of us followed. The door was open, and we could hear similar outbursts from the neighboring classrooms.
It took a few seconds before we realized that the principal was still on the P.A., praying the Rosary. We joined in and prayed for John F. Kennedy with all our hearts.
I think most people felt the same way. In fact, on that day, the immediacy of television for the first time ever brought history right into our living rooms and connected us through tragedy. No matter who you were or where you were in the world when JFK was assassinated, you were right there – with him, with Jackie and Caroline and John-John, with Lyndon Johnson and all the rest.
It was a violent day in our history, and Americans of all ages wondered if and how we could go on, but we did. Perhaps we survived because we believed Kennedy when he said we were “not here to curse the darkness, but to light a candle that can guide us through the darkness to a safe and sure future. For the world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do.”
From the depths of darkness came flickers of light as people young and old sought to do good and carry out his vision to better the world. It took time, but we healed, albeit with scars, thanks to the legacy of hope and aspiration and service that JFK had instilled in us during his three short years as president.
As I remember where I was on November 22, 1963, I also remember where I was on July 20, 1969. I had just turned 14. Six years had passed since JFK’s death, and our family and millions of others across the globe once again gathered around our television sets.
This time, the occasion was marked by joy and anticipation. My parents halted their wallpapering project and called my sisters and me to watch as astronaut Neil Armstrong landed Apollo 11 on the moon, fulfilling John F. Kennedy’s pledge that the United States would make a moon landing by the end of the decade. As Armstrong stepped down from the lunar module onto the moon’s rocky surface, we cheered triumphantly, for his achievement, for our nation, and for our late president.