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While researching topics for this week’s post, I came across an address given by President John F. Kennedy to the 1963 graduating class at Vanderbilt University on the connection between education and good citizenry. Upon the first read, it became evident to me that, though the context of his speech references different events in time — the turbulence of the civil rights movement and Vietnam, to name two — the attributes that he encouraged the students to uphold and the warnings he gave when citizens do not support these attributes can eerily be applicable to our current political and cultural climate.
Kennedy poignantly offers the students his three-point list of special obligations of citizenry, which is particularly relevant today, and I would like to share them with you.
(Please note that the text of JFK's speech has been abridged for this post.)
Vanderbilt University 90th Anniversary Convocation Address
By John F. Kennedy
“If there is one unchanging theme that runs throughout [our] separate stories, it is that everything changes but change itself. We live in an age of movement and change, both evolutionary and revolutionary, both good and evil. This nation is now engaged in a continuing debate about the rights of a portion of its citizens. That will go on, and those rights will expand until the standard first forged by the nation's Founders has been reached and all Americans enjoy equal opportunity and liberty under law.
But this nation was not founded solely on the principle of citizen-rights. Equally important, though too-often not discussed, is the citizen's responsibility. For our privileges can be no greater than our obligations. The protection of our rights can endure no longer when the performance of our responsibilities each can be neglected only at the peril of the other.
I speak to you today, therefore, not of your rights as Americans, but of your responsibilities. They are many in number and different in nature. They do not rest with equal weight upon the shoulders of all. Equality of opportunity does not mean equality of responsibility. All Americans must be responsible citizens, but some must be more responsible than others by virtue of their public or their private position, their role in the family or community, their prospects for the future, or their legacy from the past. Increased responsibility goes with increased ability. For those to whom much is given, much is required.
You have responsibilities, in short, to use your talents for the benefit of the society which helped develop those talents. You must decide, as Goethe put it, whether you will be an anvil or a hammer, whether you will give to the world in which you were reared and educated the broadest possible benefits of that education.
Of the many special obligations incumbent upon an educated citizen, I would cite three as outstanding:
- Your Obligation to The Pursuit Of Learning
- Your Obligation to Serve The Public
- Your Obligation to Uphold The Law
If the pursuit of learning is not defended by the educated citizen, it will not be defended at all.
For there will always be those who scoff at intellectuals, who cry out against research, who seek to limit our educational system. Modern cynics and skeptics see no more reason for landing a man on the moon — which we shall do — than the cynics and skeptics of half a millennium ago saw for the discovery of this country. They see no harm in paying those to whom they entrust the minds of their children a smaller wage than is paid to those to whom they entrust the care of their plumbing.
But the educated citizen knows how much more there is to know. He knows that knowledge is power — more so today than ever before. He knows that only an educated and informed people will be a free people; that the ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all; and that if we can, as Jefferson put it, 'enlighten the people generally,' 'tyranny and the oppressions of mind and body will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.'
And, therefore, the educated citizen has a special obligation to encourage the pursuit of learning, to promote exploration of the unknown, to preserve the freedom of inquiry, to support the advancement of research, and to assist at every level of government the improvement of education for all Americans — from grade school to graduate school.
Secondly, the educated citizen has an obligation to serve the public. He may be a precinct worker or a president. He may give his talents at the courthouse, the state house, the White House. He may be a civil servant or a senator, a candidate or a campaign worker, a winner or a loser. But he must be a participant and not a spectator.
At the Olympic Games, Aristotle wrote, 'It is not the finest and strongest men who are crowned, but they who enter the lists. For out of these the prize-men are selected.' 'So, too, in life,' he said, 'of the honorable and the good, it is they who act who rightly win the prize.'
I urge all of you today, especially those who are students, to act — to enter the lists of public service and rightly win (or lose) the prize. You will find the pressures greater than the pay. You may endure more public attacks than support. But you will have the unequaled satisfaction of knowing that your character and talent are contributing to the direction and success of this free society.
Third and finally, the educated citizen has an obligation to uphold the law. This is the obligation of every citizen in a free and peaceful society. But the educated citizen has a special responsibility by the virtue of his greater understanding. For whether he has ever studied history or current events, ethics or civics, the rules of the profession or the tools of the trade:
He knows that only a respect for the law makes it possible for free men to dwell together in peace and progress.
- He knows that law is the adhesive force of the cement of society, creating order out of chaos, and coherence in place of anarchy.
- He knows that for one man to defy a law or court order he does not like is to invite others to defy those which they do not like — leading to a breakdown of all justice and all order.
- He knows, too, that every fellow man is entitled to be regarded with decency and treated with dignity.
Any educated citizen who seeks to subvert the law to suppress freedom, or to subject other human beings to acts that are less than human degrades his inheritance, ignores his learning, and betrays his obligations. Certain other societies may respect the rule of force. We respect the rule of law.
The nation, indeed, the whole world has watched recent events in the United States with alarm and dismay. No one can deny the complexity of the problems involved in assuring to all of our citizens their full rights as Americans.
But no one can gainsay the fact that the determination to secure these rights is in the highest traditions of American freedom. In these moments of tragic disorder, a special burden rests on the educated men and women of our country to reject the temptations of prejudice and violence and to reaffirm the values of freedom and law on which our free society depends.”
And with that, I say Amen!
Cooking for Joan
Today, I’m bringing you another cocktail. Oddly enough, I gave you the Rose Kennedy last week, so I thought it was more than appropriate to offer up another Kennedy-inspired drink. Online, I found an article on the Life, Tailored blog entitled, Your Guide to Becoming a Kennedy: Cocktails and Chinos. Well, of course, I had to read it and there I found this Kennedy-inspired cocktail. I love Campari, I love grapefruit, and as my friend, Pete, can tell you, I love Negronis!
I have no idea if JFK even liked Negronis but I'm just going along with the article, especially since the author referenced the myth of Persephone — what an astute and intelligent man. This gem of a cocktail has that delicious bite of bitter with the sweet/sour citrus flavor of grapefruit and the floral taste of gin. A perfect end to a lovely day — enjoy!
The Kennedy Cocktail:
The Salted Grapefruit Negroni
Time: 3 min | Makes: 1 | Difficulty: Easy
- 1 ounce Plymouth or gin
- 1 ounce Antica Carpano Vermouth
- 1 ounce Campari
- 1 fresh grapefruit
- Dash of grapefruit bitters
- sprinkle of pink sea salt
In a lowball glass
Add gin, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, Carpano and Campari and stir
Add a dash of bitters and a two-inch square ice cube
Garnish with a twist of grapefruit and a sprinkle of pink sea salt