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Kennedy’s Impact on Education, Public Service, and AU

Senator Kennedy endorsing Barack Obama at American University.

Senator Kennedy endorsing Barack Obama at American University.

Sen. Edward Kennedy was remembered across campus and around the nation on Wednesday as a champion of higher education whose passing at age 77 ended more than four decades of public service. His influential voice  was  heard at American University over the years. 

“[Kennedy was] an individual who understood American higher education intimately . . .  he understood that if this country was going to be strong, it was going to be strong because it was populated by educated, competitive people,” AU president Neil Kerwin said on NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show.

One of Kennedy’s last major appearances came at a packed rally on January 28, 2008, when he stepped on stage at AU’s Bender Arena, surrounded by several generations of Kennedys, to endorse the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama.

“He will be a president who refuses to be trapped by the patterns of the past,” Kennedy told Obama supporters, many of them AU students, who had waited for hours in a line that snaked around campus.

Over 40 years earlier, on June 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy also addressed AU students when he called in his commencement address for a nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union, making news around the world and paving the way for dialogue.

Sen. Kennedy’s endorsement of Obama proved to be more than another historic moment for AU. It was “as stirring as any I’ve heard delivered,” Kerwin recalled, and would prove to be a key moment in the presidential race. “That made a difference in this campaign. Campaign professionals said that’s what turned it,” noted Professor James Thurber, director of AU's Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies.

“Kennedy was dedicated to educating future leaders. He hired AU students as interns, who went on to work for him, helping to shape policy for the nation,” said Thurber, who also spoke today on WAMU 88.5.