Today, Americans comemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. JFK was born in Brookline and graduated from Harvard in 1940. He was the youngest president in US history, and was killed after fewer than three years in office.
Though he was never a student at Boston College, JFK held the university very near to his heart. The somber commemoration of his death is an opportunity for the Boston College community to remember some of his inspiring words, words that resonate on campus more than half a century later.
On June 26, 1956, four years before he was elected president, JFK stood in Alumni Stadium and gave the commencement address. On that day, he too became an Eagle. The recipient of an honorary degree, Kennedy spoke at BC six times, more than at any other college.
In his 1956 commencement address, known today as the “Jesuit-Ivy” speech, JFK lauded BC’s tradition of coupling a premiere Jesuit education with a dedication to public service. He was privileged, he said, to be an equal among so many distinguished graduates.
“I am deeply honored at being admitted to the ranks of the alumni of this great university. Boston College has played a most important part in the life of this country and carries on a distinguished and ancient tradition of Jesuit education.”
Just seven short months before he was killed in Dallas, Kennedy spoke again at the centennial commencement ceremony in 1963. For Kennedy, it was “a great pleasure to come back to a city where my accent is considered normal, and where they pronounce the words the way they are spelled.”
In his address, the President spoke of the increasing importance of higher education in working to better the world. He echoed BC’s mantra of men [and women] for others when he outlined purposes for higher education that extend beyond the job market.
JFK applauded BC for producing graduates that could help shape and understand world politics by “accelerating change,” and highlighted the importance of graduates’ dedication to service.
On, this, the fiftieth anniversary of his violent and untimely death, Kennedy’s praise of the Boston College “Jesuit-Ivy” tradition is as relevant as ever. In the half-century since his centennial commencement speech, BC has blossomed from a small, all-male, Irish-Catholic college into a culturally and spiritually diverse community of students, faculty, Jesuits, and alumni united around the same tradition JFK so often praised.
The best way to honor America’s 35th president today is to be reminded of the values he shared with BC.Featured image via Pew Research/Twitter.