“The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream will never die.” With those words concluding his 1980 speech at the Democratic National Convention, Senator Ted Kennedy captured well the relentless drive of a generation of Kennedys in public office and the millions of citizens who found great inspiration in their leadership.
President John F. Kennedy set the rhetorical and policy tone for his brothers in many speeches, none more famous than his inauguration address of January 20, 1961. Today, in the great Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, members of the Kennedy family joined hundreds of members of Congress, former Kennedy staff members, and luminaries such as Astronaut Buzz Aldrin for a solemn observance of the 50th Anniversary of Kennedy’s inaugural address. Listening to the speakers, I could not help but think that, “the cause endures… and the dream will never die.”
(For the record, the entire event video is available for viewing on the C-Span website and you can see the back of yours truly from time to time in the foreground near the camera… I’m the one wearing the red jacket…)
Thanks to our wonderful alumna and Trinity sister Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, I had the privilege of witnessing this remarkable event in the Capitol Rotunda. President Kennedy’s daughter Caroline Kennedy gave a lovely address, see the photo above, which includes, left to right, the legendary civil rights leader and member of Congress John Lewis, Leader Pelosi, House Speaker John Boehner, Vice President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and hidden behind the podium, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.
Listening once again to President Kennedy’s speech, which we heard on audio as part of the program, I was struck by how much of his message remains absolutely relevant and urgent today. Balanced against the threat of global destruction is the call to work for peace and justice. Confronting the darkness of tyranny is the bright hope of collective, courageous action to ensure freedom for all. He was talking then about the Soviet Union and nuclear threats, but the same words could apply today to terrorism and rogue states.
Leader Pelosi gave a terrific address during the event, including a very nice shout out for Trinity. Since this speech seemed so personal for her, relating the story of how his words inspired this young Trinity woman to a life of public service, it seems appropriate to reproduce her remarks here. From the Democratic Leader’s website:
Pelosi Remarks at President John F. Kennedy Tribute
Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks today at an official tribute marking the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol. Below are the Leader’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Caroline Kennedy, members of the Kennedy family: welcome to the Capitol. And thank you for the privilege of joining you today to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy.
“I was a young Trinity College student that day, standing outside in the sunlit cold, listening to a young President’s call to ‘the energy, the faith, the devotion…that will light our country and all who serve it – and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.’
“And so it was, for three years of crises that tested our character and our national will – and leadership that advanced America’s dream and arguably saved the world in a moment of maximum danger.
“It was President Kennedy’s leadership that dared us to believe we could do the seemingly impossible, reach into the heavens and land a man safely on the moon.
“It was his leadership that at great political risk refused to deny conscience and history itself – a president for the first time ever saying that equality was ‘above all a moral issue;’ that it was time, long past time, to keep the promise of freedom.
“It was his leadership that got America moving again after a decade of three recessions by defying the conventional wisdom and demanding that our power be committed to stimulating and sustaining the prosperity of America.
“It was his leadership, a rare combination of resolve and restraint, that guided America and the planet through the gravest thirteen days of the nuclear age. Then, afterwards, in the last summer of his life, he signed the Test Ban Treaty – the beginning of the long ending of the Cold War.
“President Kennedy’s leadership was not without frustrations and setbacks. No president and no leader’s ever is. But there was in him a persistence of principle – to fight on.
“There was a willingness to think and act anew. And there was a capacity to inspire and a quality of irony: he made us laugh; he lifted our vision, rooted in our deepest American values.
“At the center of those values – of his ringing challenge to the American people – was a summons to serve: to uphold our obligations to our fellow Americans and our fellow ‘citizens of the world;’ and, in doing so, to strengthen our country.
“He made that idea real with the Peace Corps, a group of Americans serving as ambassadors of goodwill worldwide – an initiative led by Sargent Shriver, a great champion of human rights, peace, and opportunity here and across the globe; a great man whose passing we mourn this week.
“To this day, each Peace Corps volunteer is a tribute to President Kennedy. And all who step forward to strengthen America and the world bring life to his ideal of service.
“Fifty years after that January day, President Kennedy still holds a high place in our hearts. On that day, as he took up the power of the presidency, he demonstrated the power of words.
“Many of us were privileged to be there to see our new, inspiring President.
“But in places far away, people across the nation and the world watched. For them as well, it was a moment that defined our time – an hour that would be heard in times to come.
“There was a sense not only that the torch had been passed, but that each of us could carry it forward in our own way.
“The leadership of President John F. Kennedy is not just a memory, but a living force that still asks every citizen to lead—and perhaps that is the most precious gift of all. ‘And the glow from that fire can truly light the world.’”