All eyes are on President John F Kennedy. As we approach the 50th anniversary of his assassination there is a resurgent focus through programs, films and events on Kennedy's legacy and its relevance to our world today. For the Newseum, it is the debut of three exhibitions on JFK, "Creating Camelot," "A Thousand Days," and "Three Shots Were Fired." For American University, it is remembering the seminal 1963 commencement address, "Strategy of Peace," delivered at AU during the height of the Cold War.
AU's School of Communication and The Newseum joined forces on May 1 to present "JFK Remembered," an event held in the Newseum's Theater. Legendary journalist Tom Brokaw and SOC Distinguished Journalist-in-Residence Nick Clooney shared riveting stories of their experience as television reporters who were inspired by the vigorous young President.
The sold-out crowd of over 500 included AU leadership -- President Neil Kerwin, Provost Scott Bass and Dean Jeff Rutenbeck -- and an impressive array of Washington VIPs; AU alumni, faculty, students; and Newseum guests.
Clooney returned to the Newseum to host the JFK program after a two-year hiatus from moderating SOC's Reel Journalism film series with featured news personalities. Having interviewed Bob Schieffer, George Clooney, Brian Williams and Diane Sawyer on the same stage, he lightheartedly kicked off the evening by announcing, "I threatened to come back immediately, and here I am."
Brokaw and Clooney shared memories of how they were each personally impacted by Kennedy's presidency and by his death. When Brokaw learned of the assassination, he said, "I remember being riveted first by what I was reading. 'Shots were fired at the President's motorcade today.'"
Though painful, Brokaw believes that Kennedy's death deeply inspired a "welding of the country."
"I thought, '[t]his is going to change us…. I don't know how, but this is going to make America somehow a different place," Brokaw added "My life was changed by that day."
Just seven months before the assassination, the 35th President delivered the commencement address to AU's 1963 graduating class, a major nuclear non-proliferation speech that helped open the door to peace with the Soviet Union. The speech became a turning point in America's Cold War history.
"Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts," Kennedy asserted in his speech.
"[Y]ounger generations don't realize in those days… it was a bipolar world," Brokaw said, and that, "[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."
AU alumni Bill Miller felt that Kennedy's momentous speech "held out an olive branch," and initiated a different approach towards the Cold War's volatile and tense international relations.
The veteran journalists were animated as they engaged in Q&A with the audience. Topics ranged from global politics to the media's role in partisan politics butreturned frequently to a theme of citizen responsibility. The two former anchormen noted that Kennedy's presidency exhibited a unique and unparalleled diplomacy that leaves an important legacy and example for U.S. citizens today. "I do think in the 21st century [America is] in a period of transition about what our standing is in the world, and how we relate to the rest of the world," Brokaw observed.
By exhibiting the strong sense of citizenship, social responsibility and public service, which framed Kennedy's presidency, the message within Kennedy's "Strategy of Peace" speech lives on.
For citizens, Brokaw's views were clear. "You have to get involved," he finished, "just as you have always done." Brokaw is working on a two-hour documentary on the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination which will air on primetime later this year.
More on JFK at AU: american.edu/jfk.