Yesterday was President Kennedy’s 100th birthday and it was celebrated by the over 4,500 that attended the Kennedy Library. The day’s long festivities even included a birthday cake for over 1,000 guests!
This was my third trip to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and it never disappoints. But given the current political climate in the United States, this visit was even more poignant.
The one thing that I took away from my visit yesterday was not only the enthusiasm of those that attended, but the messages that the museum offered. A world of hope, unity and democracy was what resonated with me. Look no administration is perfect and Kennedy’s had its issues, but at the end of the day civil rights, the arts, the space program and strong relations with our allies were the hallmarks that I reflect on.
I have been fortunate to have travelled most of Europe and have seen first-hand the good relations the United States projects to our allies. These weren’t just holidays, in most cases they were business trips where I worked with a variety of colleagues on numerous projects. Like Kennedy, I’ve been to the Brandenburg Gate but not when the wall was standing. For me, I drove in a convertible right under it. Or in this case, right through history.
At the Kennedy museum a piece of the Berlin wall stands alone in a corner. I can only imagine what the Berlin Wall looked like at the height of the Cold War never mind its intended purpose. We know from history that the building of walls does nothing to bring people together, it divides them.
I like to think that the word UNITED in the name of my country means more than just states but the world at large. On June 26, 1963 at the gate in Berlin, President Kennedy stated, “Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was civis romanus sum [“I am a Roman citizen”]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner!“… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!”
One of the highlights from yesterday was the performance by the United States Navy Band. It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on, hearing them play was truly something to be remembered.
But it’s important to remember that yesterday was Memorial Day. A day to remember those who died while serving in our armed services. Those that made the ultimate sacrifice so we can enjoy the freedoms of democracy today. Think for a moment living in a world where freedom of the press, religion, choice, assembly, and so many other rights that we take for granted not existing.
Today we live in a complicated world, but I wonder if it’s really any different from the world that existed during the Kennedy Administration. The difference today is that social media has illuminated all facets of society here in the United States and abroad. It’s what we do with that illumination as a country and as a society that will mark our place in history. As President Kennedy famously said in his inauguration speech, “And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”