November 19, 2003 - Munster Times: RPCV Brian Williams says Kennedy set the bar for making kids want to achieve

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Peace Corps Library: Presidents: President John F. Kennedy: November 19, 2003 - Munster Times: RPCV Brian Williams says Kennedy set the bar for making kids want to achieve

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RPCV Brian Williams says Kennedy set the bar for making kids want to achieve

RPCV Brian Williams says Kennedy set the bar for making kids want to achieve

Kennedy set the bar for making kids want to achieve

I was 4 when John F. Kennedy was assassinated and my only direct recall of those dark days in November 1963 is a vague memory of sitting on the red, leather-like couch in the basement of the house we lived in then, watching black and white TV images of the horse-drawn casket and the funeral procession through a bleak-looking Washington, D.C.

And my direct memories of Kennedy as president are even fewer. Still, he has spoken to me more directly than any other president in my lifetime and in a way I wonder if my own kids ever will experience.

With two programs in particular, the Peace Corps and sending men to the moon, Kennedy sparked my imagination, challenged me and offered me purpose far beyond what any of the guys since has been able to do.

Growing up in the 1960s, I felt a palpable excitement in the space race. At elementary school we were herded off to the auditorium to watch Gemini launches on TV. We were out of class, watching a news event live: this was big. Getting to the moon not only was a bold national goal, it was a point of departure for my boyhood wonder. During that interim when Cape Canaveral was renamed Cape Kennedy, there was nothing more exciting than Walter Cronkite coming on to begin coverage of a new mission that would last the next few days. I floated weightless on the couch, built model rockets and went to the moon with them.

Later, after college, I joined the Peace Corps, not just in the heady sense of adventure carried over from the early days when volunteers were profiled in National Geographic, but also in some small way in direct response to Kennedy's call to service. I wanted to do something important with my time and I did.

In hindsight we've learned many negatives about Kennedy, in particular his failure to slow our slide into Vietnam and his atrocious philandering.

And he may simply have been in the right place at the right time with the space race and the Peace Corps, his hand forced more by competition with the Soviets than by any vision or idealism. If not him, then the next guy may have run with these ideas. But the fact remains, it was he that called us to action.

In our last presidential election, both candidates left me utterly deflated and disappointed. On the cusp of a new century, it was the perfect time to present a vision and plan for the great things a great nation could do in the coming decades, but all we got was narrow pandering to narrow constituencies and their wallets.

Then, in office, President Bush to his discredit missed a golden opportunity in the wake of Sept. 11 to challenge Americans with far more extensive opportunities for national service. People were itching to do something, and all he could suggest was more volunteer work (a worthy endeavor) and more shopping and travel to Disney World (questionable ones).

Today, what do our presidents offer up that will excite, inspire or challenge kids the same way that Kennedy did with the Peace Corps and the moon mission? Certainly there are challenges before us, and there are vast reservoirs of latent talent and ability ripe for the tapping.

Think of the effect on our kids to be inspired, excited and challenged -- to have that mighty stick of Purpose and Possibility thrown out far ahead of them and be sent off with a rousing "Fetch!"

This column represents the writer's opinion and not necessarily that of The Times. Brian Williams can be reached at

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Story Source: Munster Times

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