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The Provost’s Blog: 50 Years Ago

Hofstra Provost Herman Berliner
Hofstra Provost Herman Berliner

I am writing this blog on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Like so many people of my generation, I can still remember exactly where I was when the news was announced and can still remember how depressed and sad I was. At the time, I was a student at City College and the day was going very well. I had just completed my swimming class and was headed toward an economics course. On the way from the pool to the other side of campus, word began to spread of the shooting of JFK. Compared to how fast information is disseminated now, my college years could be considered the middle ages. Yes, there was TV and there was radio and of course there were newspapers and telephones but the information became available at a snail’s pace and was not conveniently or quickly delivered. I especially appreciate having a smart phone and instant access to information when I think back to that moment and to how little information we had.

By the time I arrived at the economics course, it was clear that President Kennedy had been gravely wounded. I just wanted to find a radio or TV to get the latest details or find a payphone so that I could call my parents to see if they had more. All the students seemed in shock but the economics faculty member didn’t want to talk with the class about what was happening, and he didn’t want to cancel class so that we could go find out. Instead he insisted on spending the full hour talking about macro-economics. He taught the class he intended to teach but for me and, I am certain almost all of the students, the lesson went in one ear and out the other. The faculty member wanted to ignore a serious reality and at that moment, I preferred to ignore economics. To this day, I still feel the faculty member was insensitive to the class and insensitive to reality. In the middle of a national tragedy, the focus should clearly have shifted.

As soon as the class ended, I headed for home. I remember watching everything that was on TV regarding the death of President Kennedy for days and buying every newspaper that was available. I was already profoundly sad but remained glued to the TV and radio no matter what.

I can’t say with any certainty whether our world or our county would be a different place if he had not been assassinated. Would we have avoided Vietnam? Would we have still passed the Great Society legislation? Would we have made more progress in Civil Rights? None of us are clairvoyant, so that there are no definitive answers to the questions. But one thing was clear; the strong sense of optimism that surrounded the Kennedy administration was gone replaced by a malaise that only expanded the more we became involved in Vietnam.

In so many ways, 50 years ago is an eternity but when I think about the Kennedy assassination, it still seems very current and very painful.

Originally published on Inside Higher Ed

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