50 years ago today
The defining question for a generation was "Where were you when President Kennedy was shot?"
I was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, walking out of my calculus class headed to the student union. I noticed a crowd gathered listening to something over the public address system. I initially assumed it was news about a space flight, but I listened more closely and learned the truth. First the announcement that the president had been shot, followed by silence. And then the announcement that Kennedy was dead. I took the bus home and remember passengers crying around me. The next few days were surreal. Everyone stayed home, watching events on TV. I was watching when Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald—I saw that assassination in real time. It was such a difficult time. And then came the funeral, watching John Jr. salute his father's coffin. I cried, just like everyone else.
Pundits call that day 50 years ago the "end of our innocence" as a nation. For me, as an individual, it was a turning point. I was too young to vote in the 1960 presidential election, and to be honest, I wasn't very engaged politically. I think JFK's assassination was the beginning of my political awakening. We lost so many leaders in the 1960s—Martin Luther King, Jr., Bobby Kennedy, Medgar Evers, and more. Three years after JFK's assassination, I was an antiwar activist at UC San Diego.
One note about JFK and UCSC for the history books: If Kennedy had lived, there are indications the president would have attended the dedication of the UC Santa Cruz campus. In a May 13, 1964 article, the Santa Cruz Sentinel quotes Dean McHenry saying the Secret Service had scouted the UCSC site in preparation for a visit by the president for the UCSC dedication. What a day that would have been!
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