JFK Library Rededication Ceremony Speech
delivered 29 October 1993
[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]
[Thank you] very much. President Clinton, first of all I want to thank you for being with us today. And your generous presence at Jack's Library and Bobby's means a great deal to all of us in the Kennedy family and to so many others who remember my brother and who still treasure the brief years he had with us.
His thousand days in the White House were a fleeting span that left a lasting mark. But of all he did, my brother would take the highest pride in the legions of young Americans he inspired and whose lives he touched and changed --
-- especially the teenage young man from Hope who shook his hand in the Rose Garden a generation ago, and who has come here today as President of the United States.
And my hope, Mr. President, is, that a generation from now, on some future occasion very much like this, another young President will honor you, as you have honored Jack.
I also speak for someone who cannot be here, but who knows about this joyful remembrance of her son. She will watch the tape of these proceedings, and they will gladden her heart -- my mother, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy.
As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote, explaining his own inspiration in life, "Through our great good fortune, in our youth, our hearts were touched with fire." Great parents can do that for their children. Great teachers can do that for their students. And great leaders can do that for an entire nation and the world.
"Ask not what your country can do for you," he said, and millions asked what they could do for their country -- and did it. The best of the old frontier became the defining quality of the New Frontier.
And it is gratifying that one of President Clinton's first initiatives in office was to summon us anew to service and not to selfishness. My brother would be proud of you, Mr. President, and so are we.
President Kennedy's sense of idealism was made all the more compelling by his sense of perspective. He never saw himself as the indispensable man, although for his time and place perhaps he was.
He took the issues seriously, but he never took himself too seriously. He brought a gift of grace and wit to everything he did.
He loved the famous Gallup Poll, which found that mothers still wanted their children to grow up to be President, as long as they didn't have to get involved in politics.
And once, pushing a switch to start a river project, he said, "I don't know whether I'm going to start the project or blow up Massachusetts."
And talking to summer interns at the White House he said, "Sometimes I wish I just had a summer job here too." And I'm sure you occasionally know that feeling as well, Mr. President.
In creating this new museum that we dedicate today, we have tried to make Jack's years of hope and action and laughter come alive again, so that those who never knew my brother can experience, at least in some small way, a sense of what he was, and why his presence so moved the nation and the world.
We can name many reasons -- from the new economics that ended years of recession and stagnation, to the Peace Corps, to the Alliance for Progress that swept our own hemisphere with the pledge that all of us could advance together.
There was "Ich bin ein Berliner" that proved no wall was high enough to block out the guiding star of liberty -- and that some day, as he believed, that wall too would come down.
There was the mission to the moon that launched humanity on history's newest voyage of discovery. There was the Cuban Missile Crisis at the high water mark of Soviet aggression, and then there was the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty that marked the first and most difficult journey back from the abyss of nuclear war.
And here at home, there was the long overdue reaffirmation that Civil Rights is the unfinished business of America. There was the renewed commitment, nearly two hundred years after the Declaration of Independence said all of us are created equal, that when we say "all," it is time for us to mean "all."
But more than anything else, larger than any other single achievement was this: He brought us one of those periodic revivals of spirit that have kept our nation young and true for the more than two centuries of its age.
We as a people saw ourselves and our mission in a bright new light after Jackson and Lincoln, and then again after the two Roosevelts. And so it was with John Kennedy.
He brought us a belief that we were equal to any challenge, that the greatest challenge of all was to be faithful to our best ideals; and with courage, he led us in a time where one false step could have doomed the world itself.
He said the torch had been passed. The torch was, he said -- he felt, relit for a whole generation and more. For all who knew my brother or knew of him in those days, it was a shining renewal that no ex po[st] facto revisionism can ever deny.
"Our problems are manmade"1 -- made by man -- he said in his famous commencement address at American University in June of 1963, and "therefore, they can be solved by man." For Jack, "commencement" is what America is all about.
But in the years after he was taken, that confidence seemed to be taken as well. America entered a long winter of disconnect [discontent]. And our family lost another brother, who had picked up Jack's fallen standard and held it high until he left us too.
Still, we always knew the springtime would come once more, and so it has. As President Kennedy said in his Inaugural Address, in words inscribed in this beautiful new museum and in our hearts:
1 Broader quotation: "First examine our attitude towards peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again." [Source: https://americanrhetoric.com/speeches/jfkamericanuniversityaddress.html]
Original Text Source: JFKlibrary.org
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Page Created: 9/8/19
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