JFK at AU: Building Peace for All Time
John F. Kennedy, 1963
President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 commencement address, “Strategy of Peace,” delivered at AU during the height of Cold War tension, is one of the most famous political speeches of the twentieth century, with its game-changing announcement that the United States would stop testing nuclear weapons and work towards a comprehensive test ban treaty.
A March panel discussion with MSNBC’s Hardball host Chris Matthews and a student speech-writing contest—both sponsored by the School of Communication—kicked off the university-wide celebration of the speech’s 50th anniversary. Matthews led a lively discussion of the impact of “Strategy of Peace” then and now, with Bob Lehrman, SOC adjunct professor and a former Gore speechwriter; journalist Marvin Kalb, who covered the speech for CBS; and Adam Frankel, former senior speechwriter for President Obama. The panel was followed by SOC dean Jeffrey Rutenbeck’s announcement of the speech contest winners. SOC, West Wing Writers, the White House Writers Group, and Lehrman underwrote awards to the winner, Ryan Migeed, SOC/SPA/BA ’15; second-place finalist Trevor Alford, SOC/MA ’14; and third-place finalist Alannah Johnson, SIS/BA ’13, in honor of JFK speechwriter Ted Sorenson.
Then on May 1, 2013, AU’s School of Communication and the Newseum joined forces to present “JFK Remembered” in the Newseum’s theatre, with renowned journalist Tom Brokaw and SOC distinguished journalist in residence Nick Clooney sharing their recollections as young reporters of JFK. Brokaw characterized the AU speech as a turning point in Cold War history. “[Y]ounger generations don’t realize in those days . . . it was a bipolar world,” Brokaw said. “[T]he speech became part of the evolution of John F. Kennedy . . . who was looking to, if you will, take the U.S. and the Soviet Union to a higher place.”
Both former anchormen emphasized that Kennedy’s presidency exhibited a unique diplomacy that is an example for U.S. citizens today. “I do think that in the twenty-first century [America is] in a period of transition about our standing in the world and how we relate to the rest of the world,” Brokaw observed. “You have to get involved, just as you have always done.”