Looking back 51 years, ripple effect still felt today

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Penny Scott

At 12:30 p.m. CST shots rang out in Dallas, Texas. At 1:00 p.m. last rites were administered and, just after 1:30 p.m., the president of the United States was pronounced dead to the public. Nov. 22, 1963 is possibly one of the most remembered dates in modern history, trumped only by Sept. 11, 2001.

Almost one year after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, while the country still mourned his death, Lane Community College was founded. As we celebrate our 50th anniversary, I’d like to reflect on the 51st anniversary of his death.

In a way anniversaries have no actual reality, but for some reason at this time of year my attention invariably turns to Kennedy. He was, arguably, one of the world’s most beloved leaders in all of history and, even though I was just a child, I still remember the day he died.

The 1960s was a revolutionary decade, and Kennedy’s death was a shocking and sobering experience. Something happened in our collective psyche. Hope took a big hit.

Because television and satellites had only recently made it possible for the world’s residents to learn about one another, his death was the first worldwide experience of mourning.

Kennedy won the hearts of young people, I think in part, because he planned to bring an end to the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War.

It’s impossible to measure the ripple effects from his death, but we know it meant the loss of countless more lives in Vietnam and widespread grief and loss, including the shattered lives of returning vets, many with PTSD.

Kennedy, like so many leaders cut down in their prime, soon became a larger-than-life legend. Then, out of the shadows, came scandals and harsh criticism, which seem to be an inevitability for heroes when they die.

Regardless of any negatives, I mostly remember him as a man who acted courageously in service to what he believed to be right. Even though his death changed the course of history, so did the gift of his life and ideas.

“A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on,” John F. Kennedy.

Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about why we are drawn to heroes; I think it’s because they remind us of who we are when fear doesn’t dictate our choices.

One of the things I like about living in Eugene, as someone described to me recently, is that the ’60s are still happening here. So, these past few years I’ve found it particularly nostalgic to think about the ’60s and the effect Kennedy had on the world. For my money, I think the ripple effect from his life is still felt today.