TAMPA – None of the boys at Jesuit High School were born anywhere near 1963. Many of their parents weren’t either.
It doesn’t seem that long ago when America had a young, charismatic president with an even younger and beautiful wife and two beautiful children. At the time, it was considered dubbed Camelot.
Of course, a lot has been written since the death of John F. Kennedy back on Nov. 22, 1963. America knows that it wasn’t exactly Camelot, but he still evokes an image of a time when heroes existed.
America has changed since the events of that day in Dallas when President John Kennedy was assassinated and his alleged murderer himself killed just two days later.
So what do the students of today think about Kennedy and the avalanche of memorials that are springing up everywhere on the 50th anniversary of that day in Dallas?
At Jesuit High, Kennedy is remembered as a leader of the civil rights movement as well as the president involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
But is he still relevant? Will Nov. 22 be a big deal at a Catholic school on the 50th anniversary of America’s first – and last – Catholic president?
“What I know about him is that he worked hard for civil rights and he worked for people from all walks of life,” said senior James Peek. “It’s been 50 years so we have made some progress, but we don’t hear much about him. Our parents talk about him, though.”
Senior Julian Velez said that Kennedy still stirs some emotion and discussion.
“He is still relevant,” Velez said. “Everybody seems to talk about him all the time. Everybody who talks about him says that he could have really done great things, but it was a long time ago.”
Jesuit hasn’t announced any formal plans for a special Mass, but will likely have a message during the convocation on Nov. 22. But will the students understand why?
“I don’t know,” said junior David Plante. “We don’t hear a lot about him but we know he was assassinated and the guy who killed him was killed on his way to prison. We hear about him but we hear a lot more about people like Martin Luther King.”
Jesuit teacher Joe Sabin was a student at Jesuit when he heard about the assassination. He had been at the Kennedy reception at nearby Al Lopez Field only days before the president traveled to Dallas. Kennedy was in Tampa to rally support from southern voters who disagreed with his civil rights policy.
“I was called to the gym that day,” Sabin said. “All we heard was that he was shot. We had just seen him a few days earlier. It was exciting. He was controversial in the South, but we were all kind of stunned. I don’t know if school was closed on Monday (the day of the funeral) but I watched it on television. I don’t remember if school was closed or not.”
Earnest Charette, Jesuit Class of 1963, was in his first year at the University of South Florida when he heard the news. He remembers complete quiet, except for one voice.
“They finally got him,” the voice said happily.
All classes at USF were suspended. There was speculation over who had assassinated the president.
“We had a lot of pride over having a Catholic president,” Charette said. “I watched the funeral and I also don’t remember if school was closed. His reputation has been so tarnished since then. But it was just a stunning thing.’’