Friday, November 22, 2013

My JFK Memory

Detail of photo taken by Seansie
at the
National Portrait Gallery
Even though I am a Boomer, I can't answer to the question, "Where were you when Kennedy was shot?" because I was only 22 months old that day.

I can, however, report that JFK's image was prevalent throughout my childhood.

While growing up in the 1960s, I was immersed with images of this young president with boyish good looks.

He and Jackie somehow managed to reflect the ideal while also being relatable. Photos of the President and the First Lady with their young children revealed the softer side of America's first power couple.

But it wasn't photos of Jack's dimples or Jackie's wardrobe that resonated with me during my youth. It was a statement about Kennedy's political failures that stuck with me the most.

I remember one of my grade school teachers giving us a worksheet about JFK.  I learned that JFK had made a number of failed runs for office over his political career.

I was stunned to read this.  And as I moved from a child to a teen to a young adult, this memory helped me to persevere past failures and into success.
This post is part of a Midlife Boulevard Blog Hop! 

The two dozen links below will dissipate in a week or two, so I'm preserving a few that captured my attention this time. 

Lori at Lavender Lulz describes Jackie's immediate response.
Renee at The Practical Shaman describes her confusion at age 6.
Cathy at An Empowered Spirit remembers her six-year-old brother's screaming when Ruby shot Oswald.

This week, I tried to find the exact sentence that my teacher provided. It was phrased something like this: "Before becoming the 35th president of the United States, John F. Kennedy failed to be elected in [x number] of elections."

I couldn't find such a statement, but I did find these specific examples of failures that JFK suffered, survived and then thrived.

  • In 1936, Kennedy failed to be elected as president of the freshman class, losing to James D. Lightbody. Actually, Kennedy didn't even get past the "primaries" in that class election. Lightbody and five others beat out JFK and 28 other contenders for a spot on the ballot. 
  • In 1937, Kennedy failed to win a spot on the student council for his sophomore year. (See slide 29 on this slide show of 60 Famous Failures.)
  • In the fall of 1940, Kennedy audited some business classes at Stanford for one semester, left and never returned.
  • In 1956, the nomination for the candidate for vice president was determined by the Democratic National Committee.  Kennedy failed to secure the win.   Estes Kefauver of Tennesse won 755 1/2 votes; Kennedy only secured 598. 

On the topic of failure, Kennedy boldly declared, 

"Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly."  

It might be easy to point to his family's wealth as a buffer to the failures listed above. However, he also had health problems that money might have eased--but could not entirely erase. 

In addition to these low points in his educational pursuits and his political career, Kennedy had to deal with health problems for his entire life. These problems ranged from colitis to back problems that required surgery to Addison's Disease.  Nevertheless, Kennedy found the strength to hold office, raise a family, travel and secure a place in the nation's memory. 

And it's this memory of Kennedy -- as the comeback kid -- that has influenced me the most as a young baby boomer. 


  1. Karen, thanks for sharing. I didn't know about his health problems. And, it reminds me of what we're heard about Macy and how many stores he opened before he was successful. As Dora said, just keep swimming...just keep swimming. Great Post! Virginia- FirstClassWoman

  2. One must fail in order to ultimately succeed - and Kennedy's success was a good example of that. BTW we must be exactly the same age, because I was also 22 months old when he was killed.

  3. Beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing.

  4. I love this perspective, and I confess I did not know about those failures. I did know of his health issues, especially his back. Great post, Karen.

  5. Thanks for bringing realness and balance to the memory of JFK. I like the way you remind us of his humanness. I think it's important that doesn't get lost as part of his legacy, and the legacy of that era.

  6. Karen, it was refreshing to be reminded that the most successful people experienced failure along the way. I don't think it was it's family wealth that made him determined but the teaching of his parents.