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Amherst College celebrates JFK legacy 54 years after president’s visit 

  • U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III gives Amherst College president Biddy Martin a hug after she had introduced him at a gathering on the steps of the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College as part of a 100th birthday symposium on John F Kennedy. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III gives Amherst College president Biddy Martin a hug after she had introduced him at a gathering on the steps of the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College as part of a 100th birthday symposium on John F Kennedy. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III speaks at a gathering on the steps of the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College as part of a 100th birthday symposium on John F Kennedy. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III speaks at a gathering on the steps of the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College as part of a 100th birthday symposium on John F Kennedy. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III speaks at a gathering on the steps of the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College as part of a 100th birthday symposium on John F Kennedy. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III speaks at a gathering on the steps of the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College as part of a 100th birthday symposium on John F Kennedy. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III speaks at a gathering on the steps of the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College as part of a 100th birthday symposium on John F Kennedy. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III speaks Saturday with Amherst College students, left, Margot Lurie and Grace Davenport while looking at an exhibit of John F. Kennedy’s writings and photos from when he spoke at Amherst College in 1963 while president. Joseph Kennedy was at the college as part of a 100th birthday symposium about his great-uncle. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III speaks with Fernanda Ponce, a student at Deerfield Academy, at a gathering on the steps of the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College as part of a 100th birthday symposium on John F Kennedy. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III speaks with Fernanda Ponce, a student at Deerfield Academy, at a gathering on the steps of the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College as part of a 100th birthday symposium on John F Kennedy. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III speaks with Fernanda Ponce, a student at Deerfield Academy, at a gathering on the steps of the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College as part of a 100th birthday symposium on John F Kennedy. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS



For the Gazette
Wednesday, November 08, 2017

AMHERST — Nearly 54 years ago, President John F. Kennedy stood before the site of the soon-to-be Frost Library at Amherst College to deliver a convocation address that championed the role of arts and poetry in society.

Another Kennedy returned to campus last weekend to keep the tradition alive.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III of Massachusetts stood on the steps of the library to deliver a speech titled, “Poetry and Politics: A Celebration of the Life and Legacy of JFK.” This year is the 100th anniversary of his great-uncle’s birth.

The speech served as the closing remarks for a daylong symposium at Amherst College. The events included a viewing of President Kennedy’s Oct. 26, 1963, address at the college before a crowd of 10,000 people as well as panels and discussions with Amherst College students, faculty and alumni.

Amherst College President Carolyn “Biddy” Martin introduced Congressman Kennedy to a crowd of about 400 people who gathered outside the library, which is dedicated to poet Robert Frost. “I can’t imagine a more fitting tribute to the late president,” Martin said to the crowd.

After joking that he would keep his speech brief and then head to Antonio’s, Kennedy began by stressing the importance of the liberal arts.

“There’s no secret that we are here in turbulent times,” Kennedy said, referring to divisive issues like immigration and health care policy. “It is in moments like these ... that the role for our liberal arts is critical … and as deeply needed as it was when President Kennedy stood in this very spot.”

The congressman quoted from President Kennedy’s 1963 speech at the college: “When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.”

“We gather to commemorate a defining moment in a defining place for two extraordinary Americans: one a proud Yankee poet and the other a proud Irish-American president,” Kennedy said. Frost died nine months before JFK’s 1963 speech at the college, where the poet taught for more than 40 years.

Kennedy said artists help us acknowledge our vulnerabilities and connect with those around us.

“Poets and painters see the world that surrounds them with a clear eye. Their empathy can translate despair into beauty,” he said. “Their humanity finds color in our shadows. And their optimism orients towards what is big, and real and tough and worth fighting for”

“I don’t believe that Mr. Frost or President Kennedy could envision the change that would begin within this building behind me,” Kennedy said. He then cited several Amherst College alumni who have found success in areas like education and health care.

Liberal arts skills can be used to encourage communities to heal and help each other, the congressman said. “That is our ultimate American and human truth — that we are a work in progress.”

“To you Amherst, I’m going to thank you for supporting each other, and for training generation after generation of leaders,” Kennedy said.

He received a standing ovation from the crowd.

“He recognizes that the need for involvement does not end,” Amherst resident Bob Pam, 71, said after the speech.

Ted Nelson, who graduated from Amherst College in 1964, spoke on one of the panels titled, “JFK at Amherst College: Amherst Student Reflections.” He said President Kennedy’s 1963 visit left quite an impression on him.

Nelson was in the crowd as President Kennedy walked by during his visit, and he remembers the president encouraging him to join the Peace Corps after graduation. Nelson, who until then had never really considered the option, said he began to take seriously the president’s advice.

“When he (President Kennedy) got shot, I went to bed in a state of shock,” Nelson recalled. By the next day, he had decided to join the Peace Corps and later worked in a small village in Turkey to assist with problems related to polluted drinking water.

“It changed my life,” Nelson said, referring to Kennedy’s 1963 speech.