Remembering President Kennedy (Fall 2013)

 People around the world paused on November 22, 2013 to remember and reflect on the life of JFK 50 years after his passing. Here on Cape Cod, the remembrances were personal. After all, the Cape was President Kennedy’s chosen haven of peace. We are pleased that three Sturgis students were selected to take part in local ceremonies.  Ella Hunt sang at the Wreath Laying Ceremony at the JFK Memorial on Ocean Street in Hyannis. Hannah Taylor and Julia Tager were honored at a press conference at the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum for their essays on volunteerism. Finally, Katie Curran reflects on President Kennedy’s leadership in her excellent article “50 Years Later: Remembering President John F. Kennedy.”

As part of the 50th anniversary commemoration of President Kennedy’s assassination, the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum Foundation invited 11th and 12th graders from local high schools to participate in a writing competition to expand the famous quote from President Kennedy’s Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961: “And so my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

Students were asked to write an essay about how their involvement in public service, volunteerism and/or community projects helps them to become better citizens in today’s society. Hannah Taylor, Class of 2014 at East won 1st place and Julia Tager, Class of 2015 at East, won Honorable Mention in the competition. Hannah and Julia gave Soundings  permission to reprint their essays.

Hannah Taylor reads "Even in America"

Hannah Taylor reads “Even in America”

Even in America

By Hannah Taylor

A place to sleep. A set of warm rooms where people who care for one another can enjoy warm meals. Somewhere to call your own. A home is something that I’d always felt entitled to: a basic human right. Blindly, I assumed that all children were born into complete homes, filled with families of all shapes and sizes. When I found myself in an orphanage in Peru, however, I realized that this wasn’t the case.

The girls living there had been abandoned at young ages, and, for many, finding a place at the orphanage was the first piece of luck they’d had. They knew nothing of the blissfully typical, support-filled lives that our group of volunteers had led. Even so, they opened their doors to us. With pride, they showed us one long room in which all 40 girls slept. They lead us through their bare kitchen and humble backyard garden. The girls were immensely grateful for what we had brought them: toilet paper, paper towels, and school supplies. They held up the small backpacks like trophies. In my household, buying my pens and notebooks from Staples was never an exciting event. In fact, it was a dismal sign of summer’s end. For these girls, however, even colored pencils represented a future.

We had a free hour to play with the girls. In those 60 minutes, they never stopped smiling. They ceaselessly repeated “Gracias, thank you” and reached out for hugs. I was amazed by their gratitude. When our taxis arrived, I felt thin arms entwining my legs. I reached down to pick up the shy girl with short hair and a wide smile. I felt my heart drop. She asked me to take her with me. I didn’t know what to say, and, teary-eyed, reached down to hug her one last time.

Heading back to the hotel, my world suddenly felt suffocatingly small and sterile. When the girl asked me to give her a home, I knew that I had to do something. Upon returning to Massachusetts, I began looking for a way that I could help children like those I’d met. I came across Horizons for Homeless; a non-profit organization where volunteers enter homeless shelters to play with the children living there. Every week during my shift, I see the same kind of resilience in the kids I interact with that I saw that day at the orphanage. They are endlessly excited to learn a new way to paint, a game, or a song. These children instill hope in me that I never realized I lacked, as well as a motivation to continue helping. Watching them and their mothers move on to their own homes is bittersweet, but I know that I’ve left an impression on them and in that I feel deeply gratified. I could never go back to the comfortable naivety of believing that all children have their own bed and a kitchen where their mothers cook them grilled cheese sandwiches, nor would I want to.

The Human Connection

By Julia Tager
Julia Tager and Hannah Taylor

Julia Tager and Hannah Taylor

I’d never really understood what John F. Kennedy meant when he said, “And so my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Of course, I thought I comprehended. Do some volunteer work now and then, try to help people, remember all the life lessons we learn in primary school. It took me 16 years to learn that I was all wrong. The only way to help your country and your world is to open yourself up–then, and only then, will you get something in return.

In June 2013, I went to Costa Rica to volunteer in an orphanage. Some of the work was manual labor, such as painting walls and carrying equipment. But the real part, the meaningful work, was when I spent time with the children. These were babies as young as four months who had never felt a loving touch. It was hard to believe that the little boys and girls who so gleefully buzzed about had been abandoned, beaten, or abused. I came to find out, over that summer, that a simple connection was the strongest gift I could offer them. If I could give the children my full attention, even an hour of my day, the glee would show in their tiny faces, and the healing process could begin.

I remember rocking a young girl, no older than 3, on a flimsy wooden bed at the back of the orphanage. I had found her in a crib, crying desperately instead of napping, and I simply could not walk past. I lifted her out without words and placed her tiny, bony body on my lap. There was a certain unspoken peace, words were not needed or even usable. I clutched her with everything I had; gently, but with a certain fierce love. I had never before felt such a deep connection. Time passed; one hour, then two. And we rocked until my back ached and her gentle sighs gave way to sleepy grunts. But never did her little hands un-clasp from around my neck. And it was all I could do for her to clutch her right back. I have never felt so in touch, so connected, than I did in those moments with a little girl with whom I have nothing in common and may never meet again. This little girl had nothing of her own, let alone loving parents, and she taught me a lesson about love and giving.

Julia Tager receives Honorable Mention

Julia Tager receives Honorable Mention

This, I believe, is what Kennedy meant when he begged the American people to search for what they could do in the world. He was not simply asking Americans to bravely march off to war. He was suggesting–pleading, even–that Americans find what made them come alive. When we find these moments, these truly human moments, we are able to change the whole world. Kennedy has left the American people with a strong legacy, but not an overwhelming one. We don’t need to fly to faraway nations to open our hearts. All it takes is a smile, a tender touch, or a helping hand wherever you are in the world. Ask what you can do.

50 Years Later: Remembering President John F. Kennedy

By Katie Curran, Class of 2016
Originally published in Sturgis Storm Watch on 21 Nov 2013. Reprinted with the author’s permission 

Friday, November 22, 1963 – A date that will forever be etched into the minds of millions Americans.  It can be impossible for many to believe that on this day, 50 years ago, America lost an iconic figure: President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. J.F.K was the thirty-fifth president and was the youngest man ever elected as president of the United States. His eloquence touched the hearts of Americans, as his famous line “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” is still proclaimed today. Although President Kennedy only led this great nation for a little over 1,000 days, his legacy has lived on through the ages.

President Kennedy left a footprint that moved America. His creation of the Peace Corps, his leadership during the Cold War and his mission to explore outer space are just a few of his exemplary achievements.  We can understand through all the stories, photos, letters, and personal accounts of everyday citizens as to how much J.F.K. really meant to this nation.

His memory lives on at his summer White House, the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port.  When the President was elected, JFK even made his acceptance speech here in Hyannis in 1960.

I am privileged to be from Cape Cod, a land graced by such an illustrious leader.  Out of the entire country, I come from a place where it all began, where one can walk the Kennedy Legacy Trail and visit the iconic locations that I call home.  JFK once stated, “I always go to Hyannis Port to be revived, to know again the power of the sea and the Master who rules over it and all of us.”

I believe that the President’s triumph shines down upon the world.  I myself am inspired to lead a life as a public servant, as John F. Kennedy did.  Cape Cod is something we all treasure, and I could not have asked for a better place to grow up. Cape Codders, including the Sturgiscommunity, should be proud to have shared our sand dunes, salty air, and bright blue waters with President Kennedy. Successful leadership, selflessness and greatness is something we have learned from his legacy on the Cape.

President John F. Kennedy’s brief time with us can teach us many lessons.  His leadership and diplomacy are admirable traits that can lead our generation in the right direction for years to come.  It is on this day that we come together as a nation, to remember our President, and fellow Cape Codder, to celebrate the life, live the legacy, and continue the triumph of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

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