This Day in Merrimack History – Fall 2015

JFK Assassination and Merrimack College

Kevin McPherson

In the basement of McQuade Library in a dusty room stuck in the seventies are bound copies of old student newspapers. These copies vary in name from the first ever “Press Club Bulletin” in 1947 to “The Warrior” to the short lived “Argus” of the nineties before finally settling on the current day “The Beacon.” These newspapers may appear strange to the modern day reader, and they did to me, because they reflect the culture of the times on every page. The style of the ads change over the years featuring advertisements for various cigarette companies, and even including a contest sponsored by Marlboro offering free cigarettes to the participant who sent in the most empty cartons… different times. However there is one article that is different and it is contained inside of the blue bound book labeled “The Merrimack Warrior vol. 17 Sept, 1963- May 1964,” and the article comes from November 25, 1963 three days after one of the darkest times in American history, the day President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

November 22, 1963 was just a normal Friday at Merrimack College, however, it would not remain as such. Around 1:00 PM the President was announced dead and the nation changed forever. Ask any person who was alive at the time, whether it’s a parent, grandparent, or family friend, and they will tell you where they were the minute they heard the news. The answer to that question for some people was that they were right here at Merrimack College, sitting in the same classrooms we sit in, learning some of the same material going through the same things we go through. They were students just like us yet they were students during such a horrific event that shaped the 1960’s and it is hard for us to understand that today because to us looking back on history the Kennedy Assassination is so inevitable it is always just around the corner when talking about his Presidency. However to the students at the time the Kennedy Presidency was boundless in potential and represented what they thought was going to be real positive change to their political system and future and the sudden end to that dream was traumatizing. As we approach finals we assume nothing will get in the way of those but when the news broke one class of girls was about to take a test, and upon hearing the group became inconsolable. All campus activities were canceled that day but there were no parties or celebrations only mourning. The immense sadness over this event can be felt in every word in this eerily short edition of the Warrior. These students are deeply affected by this event in a way that our generation cannot really understand because of our political apathy and disenchantment with government.

To the college students around the country and specifically here at Merrimack John F. Kennedy “personified Americanism.” In an article entitled “JFK-Students; New Americanism” an anonymous author describes how the American youth viewed the young President. The article states that “Never before has youth been able to become part of a system, the American system, in such a way as they have in the past three years.” This is true, JFK excited American youth and seemed to appeal to them in a way that other national politicians had not been able to do. He was the first President born in the 20th Century and this new idea of what government could be to the young voters excited them very much: “Never before has youth been aware of how much it means to be an American. And now the image is gone.” The youthful exuberance of the College students under Kennedy was short lived, although some of his policies were carried on by LBJ such as Civil Rights, his predecessors returned to the category of old, white, and fairly unexciting.

Another article is entitled “Death to a Stranger” which is a misleading name as it could not be further from the truth in describing the assassination of John F. Kennedy. More than any other President at the time, besides Franklin Roosevelt, JFK was a member of the American family. Americans got to know his family on a more personal level than any previous First Family. John F. Kennedy was a young, attractive, charismatic leader and his family was also full of life and youthful energy. Jacqueline Kennedy was a very present First Lady who took over as the interior designer for the previously bland Executive Mansion. After the restorations were made and the building was turned into a basically live-in museum for the President and his family, the First Lady took the American people on a tour of what she considered to be their home on ABC. The Kennedy family connected with Americans on a whole different level unseen in history. Especially with the youth Kennedy was far more than a “stranger,” when the President was shot Americans and Merrimack College students did not just lose a President they lost a family member, and they mourned as such. Americans mourned for Jackie and Caroline and John Jr. as if they were family. “Death to a Stranger” could not be further from the truth the death of JFK was the death of a father, brother, son, hope and dream of the American and even Merrimack family.

“Perhaps this is the reason why we of Merrimack have died a little today. The President was no stranger. He carried with him a little bit of us- our youth, our laughter, our vitality, our anger, our idealism, our courage- and when he died these gifts of ours died. The deathly bullet that pierced his body struck the hearts of all of us. May he rest in peace.”

 

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